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Fifteen Minutes of Fame

Fifteen Minutes of Fame

Although she was one of the lucky few to receive an acceptance letter from Harvard University, Blair Hornstine won't be among the entering freshmen at the Ivy League School this fall. She's the home-schooled student who made national news (and lots of enemies) when she filed a $2.7 million lawsuit against her high school so she did not have to share the valedictorian title with a fellow student. (Read the background at http://stacks.msnbc.com/news/926843.asp?0cl=cr.)

She may have won her case. But, ultimately, she lost. Big time.

Turns out that Harvard University withdrew its offer of admission to her after a New Jersey newspaper, the Courier-Post, claimed that she failed to appropriately credit sources in several articles she wrote for the publication.

Plagiarism apparently doesn't sit too well with the powers-that-be at Harvard University, and rightly so.

In a letter published on the newspaper's teen website (www.courierpostonline.com/static/st060303g.html), Hornstine defended her actions, offering up this explanation: "When finalizing my thoughts, I, like most every teenager who has use of a computer, cut and pasted my ideas together. I erroneously thought the way I had submitted the article was correct."

Uh-huh. It's difficult to imagine how she could know anything about the habits of other teenagers, given that she did not actually attend school. Her claims ring just a little too much like the guilty person's standard assumption of rationality: "Everybody else is doing it" and "I didn't know I was doing anything wrong!"

But I think there is a deeper pathology at work here. By all accounts, Hornstine is a bright student. According to newspaper reports, she made nearly perfect grades in high school, aced the SATs, and received plenty of accolades for her efforts along the way. But she is also someone who so desperately wanted to be named class valedictorian-excuse me, I mean sole class valedictorian-that she was willing to go to court over it. Talk about hogging the limelight!

In the end, what Blair Hornstine did was fail to make the distinction between honor and accomplishment. It's one thing to want something so much that you're willing to work for it. It's another entirely to want something so much that you're willing to sue for it. Or cheat for it.

I hope her 15 minutes of fame was worth it.

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