Fact Check

Did President Trump Plagiarize His Commencement Speech from 'Legally Blonde'?

Snippets of a commencement address delivered by Trump have been compared to snippets of a scene in the Reese Witherspoon film.

Published May 17, 2017

A commencement speech delivered by President Trump at Liberty University in May 2017 bore remarkable similarities to one given by Reese Witherspoon's character in the 2001 film "Legally Blonde."

On 15 May 2017, two days after President Trump delivered a commencement speech to the graduating class of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, comedian Jimmy Fallon devoted part of his Tonight Show monologue to a video montage comparing snippets from Trump's speech to one given by Reese Witherspoon's character, Elle Woods, in the 2001 comedy Legally Blonde:
The clip attained instant notoriety, in part because it was reminiscent of a scandal that erupted during the 2016 presidential campaign when Melania Trump gave a speech that borrowed heavily from one Michelle Obama delivered in 2008. A number of media outlets joined the Occupy Democrats Facebook page (above) in sharing the Fallon clip under headlines declaring, with varying degrees of sarcasm, that Trump similarly "plagiarized" Legally Blonde.

"Trump's commencement address casts striking similarities to Legally Blonde," noted Daily Mail Online with no detectable sense of irony (and an apparent inability to tell what color hair Donald Trump has):

Having a head of bleach blonde hair isn't the only thing President Trump has in common with Reese Witherspoon's character in Legally Blonde.

The two have a similar way with words as well.  

As pointed out by Jimmy Fallon on the Tonight Show, Trump's commencement address at Liberty University this weekend drew parallels to the graduation speech that Elle Woods gives at the end of the hit 2001 film.

There is no basis in reality for suggesting that Donald Trump copied any part of his speech from Legally Blonde, however. Albeit expertly done for comic effect, Fallon's montage used a very few cherry-picked moments from different parts of Trump's address to create the impression that the president echoed the Reese Witherspoon character's words:

WOODS: "We take our next steps into the world..."
TRUMP: "You must go forth into the world..."

WOODS: "It is with passion..."
TRUMP: "Passion..."

WOODS: "Courage of conviction..."
TRUMP: "Courage in your convictions..."

WOODS: "And most importantly..."
TRUMP: "Most importantly..."

WOODS: "Have faith in yourself."
TRUMP: "Be true to yourself."

WOODS: "We did it."
TRUMP: "I did it."

Considered in their entireties, there are, in fact, no "striking similarities" between Trump's 32-minute, 3,800-word address and Witherspoon's Legally Blonde speech, which comprised no more than 100 words and lasted all of 60 seconds on screen:

On our very first day at Harvard, a very wise Professor quoted Aristotle: "The law is reason free from passion." Well, no offense to Aristotle, but in my three years at Harvard I have come to find that passion is a key ingredient to the study and practice of law -- and of life. It is with passion, courage of conviction, and strong sense of self that we take our next steps into the world, remembering that first impressions are not always correct. You must always have faith in people. And most importantly, you must always have faith in yourself.

Here is a video of President Trump's Liberty University commencement speech in its entirety:


Collman, Ashley.   "Plagiarizing Elle Woods? Trump's Commencement Address Casts Striking Similarities to Legally Blonde."    Daily Mail Online.   16 May 2017.

Nyren, Erin.   "Jimmy Fallon Points Out Similarities Between Donald Trump’s and ‘Legally Blonde’ Speeches."    Variety.   16 May 2017.

CNN.   "Trump's Liberty University Commencement Speech."    13 May 2017.

IMDb.   "Legally Blonde."    Visited 17 May 2017.

TIME.   "Read President Trump's Liberty University Commencement Speech."    13 May 2017.

David Emery is a West Coast-based writer and editor with 25 years of experience fact-checking rumors, hoaxes, and contemporary legends.

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