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I apologize in advance for such a long and possibly bizarre question. I have tried to find an answer to this issue but could not find it anywhere. First I want to provide some context.

I was a student taking an alternate high school education program to the one my area’s schoolboard offered. This program administers standardized assessments on an international scale and awards a diploma upon completion. For a report that I submitted in this program, I remember being worried that I may have violated academic integrity rules. The program punishes plagiarism sternly when proven (the guilty loses their diploma or the ability to earn it + receives a grade of 0 in the subject for which the report was submitted) and can apply punishments retroactively, although examples of this are very rare.

After submission, I remember asking my teacher on several occasions about concerns I had with my paper, which, in retrospect, I should have asked before submission. Each time, the teacher said that what I had done was not a violation. I asked questions about this so often because my handling of references was so dubious in that report that I kept finding new problems with it.

I was so obsessed and anxious about this issue for months. I was extremely worried and consumed by the feeling that my future was in jeopardy and this made me spend hours daily examining my report for issues, doing research about plagiarism, etc. whilst rehearsing my "defenses" for perceived infringements in the report.

Eventually, I was able to move on with support from family and friends. Nothing ultimately ever came of the submission of that report; I completed the program and successfully got into university the year after and received an admissions scholarship. At the time I was happy about this and the issue of my report was not really on my mind.

Currently, I’m going into my senior year of undergrad. By all measures, I have been cautious to a fault when it comes to academic integrity in all my time as a university student, so I believe I learned my lesson. However, whenever I get reminded of the report, I become very worried, like I have been for the last few weeks.

The reason that I feel worried is because there were a few unresolved concerns that I never brought up, mostly because I felt regret for pestering my teacher who had been exceedingly patient. I worry about it now because there was an idea/technique used in the report that I feel I should have referenced (before, I thought that the idea I used was “obvious” and didn’t need to be referenced). I say “feel” because I am going by my fallible recollection of what I did several years ago. The program does somewhat vet these reports through graders (the teachers) and plagiarism checkers.

Although I would say it is incredibly unlikely for me to be retroactively punished for that report, I feel as if I deserve to be penalized because I do not have confidence that that report was tolerable from an academic integrity standpoint. If I lost my diploma and the university was notified of it now or in the future, I fear that the university could respond in turn by expelling me, revoking my degree, depriving me of my scholarships, etc. But that is speculation on my part, I don't know what the university would do about that. That it is really unlikely that this outcome would occur is not reassuring, because I honestly cannot bear the thought that the university I attend would boot me if it was ever notified that I had been stripped of my diploma, which is perhaps what I deserve.

I feel terrible because I just want to earn my degree with a clear conscience and I feel that that is not possible given what happened in the past. Frankly, this whole issue makes me feel like there’s no point in working hard anymore because I may not even deserve to attend my university to begin with. Whenever I get reminded about this issue I worry about it for weeks at a time until I'm too busy to worry about it. I cannot take this anymore; I really need some help and insight if anyone could offer that.

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    Have you talked to a doctor or mental health counsellor? I am not a medical professional, but obsessing to this degree over (what seems to me, an outside observer) a tiny, completely excusable mistake you made when you were a child is very unhealthy. I have an anxiety disorder myself, and your description of your thoughts and feelings here are reminiscent of the type of obsessive/catastrophising thoughts I sometimes have. I think there is zero chance you will lose your degree.
    – astronat
    Sep 10 '21 at 11:35
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    I have never received help from a doctor or mental health counsellor on these kinds of issues. Once, several years ago, I brought up to my family doctor that I was dealing with thoughts that were very distressing (including thoughts similar to the ones in this post) and they said they would arrange for help but I never got any. I have never asked for help since then. But how I've been feeling recently in conjunction with your suggestion to seek assistance is making me consider it again. Thanks for the reply.
    – pan0ski1
    Sep 10 '21 at 11:42
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    Welcome to the community! I proactively closed this question, both because it fits the close reason and to prevent trolls from hijacking. I strongly urge you to take the advice of the top-rated comment and the answer below. Good luck!
    – eykanal
    Sep 10 '21 at 14:54
  • Thanks. I believe that the decision to close this question was fair for all of the reasons given. Also, I sincerely thank everyone who took the time to give advice on this issue.
    – pan0ski1
    Sep 10 '21 at 16:48
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You are suffering from an irrational fear.

From an academic perspective, I can only tell you that the point to move on from the referencing in your report was somewhere between submitting it and the first few questions you asked your teacher. I suppose you already know this, although a part of your mind is refusing to accept it. As the issue is ultimately not an academic one, an academic mentor is not the qualified person to help you. Please seek support from a mental health counsellor, a therapist or a doctor.

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tl;dr

  1. We will not be able to know with certainty whether or not what you have done constitutes an academic integrity violation; however, it seems as though you did not commit a violation.
  2. Seeking professional help from a doctor, therapist, or mental health counselor might help you in this situation.

Let's walk through your story step by step:

Each time, the teacher said that what I had done was not a violation.

Strangers on the internet will not be able to confirm whether or not your past actions constituted plagiarism, however it seems as though you have taken measures to figure this out (with positive results).

By all measures, I have been cautious to a fault when it comes to academic integrity in all my time as a university student, so I believe I learned my lesson.

This is, in my opinion, the most important outcome of your situation. Academic integrity is important, and plagiarism is plagiarism whether or not it is intentional. However, students (especially those in high school) make honest mistakes. The important thing is to learn good practices and use them moving forward. It looks like you've done this part very well.

I worry about it now because there was an idea/technique used in the report that I feel I should have referenced (before, I thought that the idea I used was “obvious” and didn’t need to be referenced).

Again, strangers on the internet will not be able to tell you whether or not this lack of reference constitutes plagiarism. But according to what you say next

The program does somewhat vet these reports through graders (the teachers) and plagiarism checkers.

it seems like you have not committed any academic integrity issues because your submission has met the standards of your program.

I feel terrible because I just want to earn my degree with a clear conscience and I feel that that is not possible given what happened in the past.

It is your high school's job to judge what occurred during your tenure there. They have judged your performance to be adequate.

It is your university's job to judge what happens during your tenure there. Given that you are in your senior year, they have been judging your performance to be adequate. Moreover, you have learned from your experience in high school and you are taking extra measures to ensure that your performance is good.

I cannot take this anymore; I really need some help and insight if anyone could offer that.

I hope that this answer has offered insight. I think that help should come from a licensed doctor, therapist, or mental health counselor (which I am not). But from an academic perspective, it seems as though your situation is fine.

Would these be adequate grounds for severe reprimand from my undergraduate program?

No.

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