It was the fall of 2002, I was in 6th grade, briskly walking to the library to inquire about a trifold presentation I had turned in a few days earlier. I was sure I would win 1st place. When I asked the librarian about my project, she summoned the dean.
This was the first time I had ever met a dean. Up until that point, I didn’t even know the school had one. She was very friendly. She told me that my presentation had been disqualified.
“Disqualified,” I repeated in disbelief. She then asked me if I knew why. I honestly couldn’t think of any reason for my presentation to be disqualified, so I told her no. “Plagiarism,” she said. “Do you know what plagiarism is?” she asked; slowly realizing I had never been introduced to the concept. I again responded with a simple no.
After a lengthy explanation that somehow wandered from paraphrasing whole paragraphs of a digital encyclopedia into the copyright restrictions on typography, I had been thoroughly converted to pledging the rest of my life to being original. I would never again plagiarize or so much use anything remotely close to something I didn’t make 100% myself.
Through the rest of my academic career, I worked extra hard. I was never tempted to plagiarize because it simply wasn’t an option. Every paper I wrote and every presentation I gave had to be original. As original as possible. I began to scrutinize how original, a person like me, could realistically be.
Has this phrase been used before? Is a PowerPoint template bad? How about this example résumé? Before I knew it I was questioning everything, down to the fonts used on my business cards. If someone else made it, I wasn’t using it, because it wasn’t mine. I’d have to change it quite a bit before putting my name to it. And to my credit, there are instances where I brought up a valid point. “No, you can’t use that photo randomly pulled off Google!”
But still, it’s hard. Someone once said, “No man is an island.” A quick Google search will reveal who said that and at least 100 others plagiarizing it. There is no way you could be completely self-made. There’s no such thing as a self-made billionaire. Everyone had a mother. English is not my invention. And prose was around long before I could write.
Even so, plagiarism is not an option. Credit must be given where credit is due. And with that, no work is completely original. By the way, this website was developed by Squarespace, I just dropped in photos taken on God’s earth and decided how to arrange the English language on this page. My business cards were also printed by Moo.