• Newsfeed
  • graduation

A Valedictorian Trolled His Own Classmates with an Obama Quote Disguised as a Trump Quote

3 minute read
Updated: | Originally published: ;

Ben Bowling, valedictorian of Bell County High School’s class of 2018 in Pineville, KY, has had quite an exciting graduation season. Not only did he receive his diploma and deliver a memorable speech, but he’s also made national headlines.

“This is the part of my speech where I share some inspirational quotes I found on Google,” Bowling said in his graduation speech to the class assembled in the auditorium on June 3. “‘Don’t just get involved. Fight for your seat at the table. Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table’ — Donald J. Trump.”

As video of his speech confirms, the audience went wild for his line, bursting into applause.

But he had a follow-up zinger. “Just kidding,” he said, even as the audience continues cheering. “That was Barack Obama.” The auditorium became noticeably subdued.

“I expected the applause for sure, but wasn’t sure what to expect when I revealed the real quote,” Bowling explained to TIME. “I knew my classmates would find it funny, but wasn’t sure about the audience. It was all in good fun.”

Bowling says he does “lean left” despite living in a conservative area, and his classmates were aware of his political opinions — so that helped the joke land even better. “They knew I wouldn’t quote Trump, so they all thought it was hilarious,” he said. “I love my area and all the people in it. I am not knocking the local people or their political opinions at all.”

It turns out the quote is taken from a Barnard College commencement address delivered by the former president in 2012 about leadership, specifically tailored to speak to the challenges women face.

“And as someone who wants that future — that better future — for you, and for Malia and Sasha, as somebody who’s had the good fortune of being the husband and the father and the son of some strong, remarkable women, allow me to offer just a few pieces of advice. That’s obligatory,” he prefaced; Barnard is all women. “Bear with me.” He then launched into the quote that Bowling decided to use.

“I just thought it was a really good quote,” Bowling told local news after the fact. (And yes, he confirmed to TIME that he really did come across it via Google.) “Most people wouldn’t like it if I used it, so I thought I’d use Donald Trump’s name. It is southeastern Kentucky after all.”

Bowling said he hasn’t faced backlash for the source of his inspiration; the local response has been “all positive.” But he also isn’t planning on jumping into politics too soon — although he’s keeping his options open.

“I’m not exactly comfortable with public speaking,” he admitted to TIME, “but I would like to improve and if given the opportunity to do something important with it, to be able to make a positive impact.” Bowling intends to attend the University of Kentucky as a member of the class of 2022, and right now is looking at majoring in biology and pursuing a degree in medicine, although he tells TIME he’s keeping an “open mind.”

More Must-Reads from TIME

Write to Raisa Bruner at raisa.bruner@time.com