Sometimes heroes wear caps.
On Saturday, 18-year-old Ben Bowling gave the valedictory speech at his graduation from Bell County High School in Pineville, Kentucky, and used it to make a point about political tribalism that has gone viral.
Bowling faced the audience of students and parents in the seat of a county which went for Donald Trump by 82 percent in 2016.
“This is the part of my speech where I share some inspirational quotes I found on Google,” he said. “The first: ‘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.”
According to the Washington Post, the auditorium erupted in loud applause. There was some whistling and screaming.
“Just kidding,” Bowling added. “That was Barack Obama.”
The crowd went silent. There were some boos and groans.
Crowd cheers when Kentucky HS valedictorian Ben Bowling quotes Trump, then groans when he reveals the inspirational quote was actually from Barack Obama ????? pic.twitter.com/7GL14IIb1S
— ManSitChoAzzDown (@AngryManTV) June 4, 2018
But some in the audience — quickly followed by the internet — loved it.
“Y’all, no lie — the valedictorian just quoted Trump and everyone cheered … then he told us that it was actually an Obama quote. Best part of the day. I’m rolling,” tweeted audience member Alisha Russell, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.
“The crowd erupted in applause and before they could even finish clapping I said I was kidding, and the applause quickly died,” Bowling said later. “I just thought it was a really good quote. 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.” Social media has turned the high-school valedictory speech into an effective means of social protest. On May 28, a gay valedictorian from a high school in Crestview Hills, Kentucky, had his speech rejected because it urged young people to become involved in activism, mentioning the school shooting in Parkland Hills, Florida, and the gun control debate. So he gave the speech outside the ceremony on a megaphone, and YouTube.
Bowling advised future graduation speakers to be courageous. “Try not to be too nervous about it,” he told the Courier-Journal. “For the most part, if you’ve been successful up to this point, there’s nothing to worry [about].”