Ever since I made the decision that I wanted to go to art college back in 2015, my parents have always been nothing short of supportive. They put in extra hours at work where they could, and put aside their own personal desires so I could have the opportunity to pursue my dream of being an artist— one that I had been chasing since I was in early grade school. To put it into perspective; my family has never been remotely close to “well-off” in the financial department. Barely above the poverty line, in fact. Yet somehow, my parents continued to pull through for me and find a way to keep cosigning for my loans— even paying off some of them. All they asked of me was to work hard, do well in school and eventually earn my degree and get a good job with it. Easy enough, right?
Along the way there were many hurdles that truly tested myself, as well as my family in its entirety. One of which, included a severe episode of depression that resulted in a medical withdrawl from the college, and eventually, a change in major upon returning. That added on an unexpected year to the average 4 for earning my BFA. Yet somehow, my parents still managed to pull through for me. And I was more determined than ever to make them proud. I even sat down with the president of our college and presented my family’s situation, literally begging for any form of additional financial aid— which got me an additional need-based scholarship that helped immensely. I held an on-campus job for my entire time there, for roughly 4.5 years to pay my own bills like food, phone, and other necessities. All in all, I would say that I did exactly what was expected of me. I was a hard-working, determined student. I got B-A range grades in every single class, and I made work that I was genuinely proud of while constantly striving to learn and hone my craft. Things went on like this for my next three years there. Good grades, great art, the works.
That’s not to say that my relationship with my parents was always smooth, however— despite them being so financially supportive. Since my decision to attend an out of state art college, it’s been nothing but a constant guilt trip from their end. About how I was (and still am) the one who put them in such a rough financial situation. I would understand if I was an ungrateful student, who slacked off in every aspect of my life (shit grades, not holding a job, not paying my own bills, etc). But I did everything they asked me to. I did everything that I possibly could, while being a full time student and holding 2-3 jobs. To this day, I feel like they are emotionally punishing me for something that both parties agreed on pursuing. And I don’t live a single day without feeling the immense weight of that guilt they put on me. Again, not to say I’m ungrateful. But they could have just as easily said no, and encouraged me to attend a local art college or just drop art all together. But they didn’t. And they have the audacity to place that entire blame on me.
The real trouble began during my senior year (2019-2020). I was already feeling massive burnout, overwhelming pressure from my parents, and resurfacing feelings of severe depression and anxiety. Also probably worrying about the near future and whether or not I was going to be successful like my best friend, who had graduated from there a year prior. But anyway. It was time for each student to pitch their thesis project ideas. I pitched the one I was very excited and passionate about, and it got shot down miserably. Dissapointing of course. But it was what it was. At that point, I had less than 3 weeks to come up with another idea that would be approved. Not only that, but I had to be passionate enough about it to want to work on it for the next 3/4 year. I was in full on panic mode. I was drawing nothing but blanks. The constant harping from my parents about how I made them suffer and struggle, clouded my mind and geberated an even greater pressure to succeed— no matter what. Naturally, I tried looking to artists whose work I admired, to become inspired and draw ideas from them. I became a bit more than inspired by one artist in particular. Before I knew it, I had resorted to using their designs and redrawing them in a different digital medium for half of my project. Then the deadline for turn in arrived. We had to publish our books online via live link, for our thesis show. I uploaded mine, and thought that was that. I was finally done. But I wasn’t.
Not even 24 hours after uploading it, I received a flurry of messages from one of my friends who had graduated a year earlier. He said that alumni were commenting on my book, that it had stolen plagiarized work. Instantly regretting what I had done, I went online and took the link down. But that wasn’t the end. The next morning, I received several messages pointing out what I had done— one of which, included the department head of my major, citing my plagiarism. It resulted in F’s for the entire academic year, 1 year of academic suspension, and eligibility for readmission in a similar major in 2021. But now, I don’t know if I will even be able to afford that. I already have one student loan and my federal loans to pay off. I have no one to cosign for another year— possibly more if I can’t finish within 1. And even if I were to go back and finish, I really tarnished my reputation in the art world, as it is a pretty closely knit community. My chances for post graduate success are significantly lower now. Not to mention, I don’t even know if that’s what I want to do anymore. Even before my decision to plagiarize, I decided for myself that once I graduated, I wanted to take some time off and just focus on myself. Save up some money while working a normal job, get a reliable form of transportation, then start applying places. Just to avoid further burnout from 5 straight years of art college, and improve aspects of myself that had been put on the backburner before committing to something in the industry for long term. In retrospect, I even wish I had taken a gap year to do some growing and personal reflection… before diving headfirst into a college so far away. Hard lesson learned.
Overally, it’s a huge weight to carry, this secret. This shame, this sadness, this regret. It’s been eating me up inside. I havent been able to tell my parents. I dont think I ever will be able to. As far as they know, I graduated and am done with college. The only ones who know the truth are my therapist, and my boyfriend and his family, who I’ve been living with the past year for other reasons. Not even my closest friends know. Literally everyone in my life has been so supportive up to this point, and for me to tell them that I blew it right before crossing the finish line? It would crush them. I am at a standstill in my life for this stupid decision I have made, and I don’t know where to go from here. I fucked up more than I have ever, in the history of my entire life. I feel like a terrible, broken and messed up person who doesnt deserve happiness for what I have done. And I’m finding it harder and harder to stay hopeful for my future. I hate mysef for what I have done. I guess in opening up anonymously about this here, I’m hoping to find at least someone who will help me realize that I am not a lost cause, and there is still light at the end of a very, seemingly dark tunnel.
TL;DR: I plagiarized big time on my art college senior thesis project and have been suspended for 1 academic year. I don’t know if I will be able to ever get my degree now.
——— EDIT (6/24 @ 12:15 AM) ——-
First off, I want to genuinely thank everyone who has responded to my confession here. For offering genuine advice and sympathies, and for others, brutal honesty. I’m not ready to break it to my parents just yet, and I don’t know if I ever will. But posting/confessing here really helped me feel like I had a load taken off. Especially seeing that other people have gone through similar experiences.
It’s an understatement to say I truly, deeply regret making the decision I did. But I can at least know that I did my very best to express that remorse to the comittee in charge of my hearing. Normally, flat out plagiarism is immediate grounds for permanent academic expulsion from the institution, especially in art college. But I appealed my case in front of those attending, and also reached out to the original artist and profusely apologized for using her designs. I was fortunate to only receive a ruling of 1 year of suspension, and eligibility to return the following year in 2021. It doesn’t lessen the severity of what I did, but it still was not the worst that could have happened (in terms of penalties for my violation).
I’m grateful that I have a chance in the future to come back (should I choose to), and even more grateful that the original artist did not press charges for using her designs. It has definitely been a huge wake up call for me. One of the main answers I need to find within myself is if I am passionate enough to pursue an industry career in it? Or am I just passionate enough to do freelancing/smaller comissions as a personal business?
I saw another comment here, saying that I am not passionate about art. While my decision was more than foolish, one error in judgment does not render my previous successes before that, useless or pointless. I have seriously pursued a path in art since I was in early grade school (about 4th or 5th grade) and have enjoyed many successes because of it. I won numerous art contests, was involved in everything regarding my school’s art department, and eventually when the time came to apply to colleges, I was accepted to all 5 of my top choices. MICA, RCAD, SCAD, RISD, and Sheridan. I had never taken art lessons (or similar)— I got to where I needed to be skill-wise on my own accord, by working hard to achieve that dream.
But, no matter how much we want something or how hard we work for it, sometimes things change in life that are out of our control. My depression and anxiety for example, while it is not an excuse for “giving up on life”, it definitely made (and still makes) it difficult to generate that constant flow of creativity that is required of art students. I wasn’t officially diagnosed with it until I was in the beginning of my sophomore year of college. That’s when it hit the hardest, and resulted in my medical withdraw from that semester. And depsite being put on Prozac and frequenting counseling/therapy sessions, I still don’t think I’ve been able to come back from that— as hard as I tried and as much as I wished for it. I hit a couple hurdles leading up to my senior year, and I thought I was strong enough to overcome them— but I wasn’t. So this is a time for me to reflect on myself, where I actually want to go with my life, and if I need to rework my gameplan for the next couple years. But to say that this decision means I was NEVER passionate about it in the first place? I politely disagree.
The years before my senior year, I had such a determination— such a fierce drive to succeed with a solid work ethic that I’ve always had, whether it was with art or anything else I took part of in school (choir, soccer, etc). But something just… changed when my senior year came. I lost that spark. It was burnout. Especially from having already taken an extra year. I just wanted to be done. A sentiment that I’m sure many other people have experienced at some point during their college careers. Not saying it justifies plagiarism. But I won’t silently accept someone telling me I was never passionate about art. Shit happens and things change, no matter how hard we wish for them not to. Life is hard. 🙁