Jerry Seinfeld Commencement Speech Spurs Walkout at Duke University

Jerry Seinfeld has steered clear of controversy for decades, saving his strongest opinions for the arguably mundane. But it appears his recent comments on what’s acceptable fodder for comedy, as well as his ongoing support of Israel, have prompted a new wave of frustration with the comedian. That aggravation boiled over today, in the form of a student walkout at Duke University’s graduation, just as the Seinfeld star took the stage to deliver the school’s commencement speech.

According to a video posted to social media, Seinfeld’s introduction by school president Vincent Price was “drowned out” by chants of “free free Palestine.” The rallying cries appeared to come from both the soon-to-be-graduates seated on Brooks Field as well as folks in the surrounding rows at Wallace Wade Stadium.

Another video shows be-gowned students standing, unfurling Palestinian flags, and leaving the stadium as Seinfeld prepared to speak. According to The Daily Beast, the livestream of the graduation ceremony cut away from the protest as it occurred.

Seinfeld, who also received an honorary doctorate from the school, didn’t allude to the protest in his speech, which focused on general life advice for the graduates. WRAL reports that the still-working standup announced three keys to life: Work hard, pay attention, and fall in love. (All activities, one should note, that seemed to eternally elude his namesake character.)

“Whatever you’re doing, I don’t care if it’s your job, your hobby, a relationship, getting a reservation at M Sushi, make an effort,” he reportedly said from the stage. “Just pure, stupid, no-real-idea-what-I’m-doing-here effort. Effort always yields a positive value, even if the outcome of the effort is absolute failure of the desired result. This is a rule of life. Just swing the bat and pray is not a bad approach to a lot of things.”

As Seinfeld spoke, the departed graduates chanted, “Disclose, divest, we will not stop, we will not rest” from the parking lot, the Times reports.

Jerry Seinfeld’s latest bat swing is Unfrosted, a Netflix film that offers a satirical look at the creation of the Pop-Tart. The Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee creator has been borderline ubiquitous as he works to promote the film, including an appearance on last week’s episode of Saturday Night Live in which he depicted “A Man Who Did Too Much Press.”

Some might argue, however, that the issue hasn’t been the quantity, but the quality: In an interview with The New Yorker, the 70-year-old confoundingly claimed that “the extreme left and P.C. crap” has killed televised comedy, despite a multitude of comedic properties available for viewing every day of the week. The remarks were praised by many on the far right, while others said the remarks were out of touch, but perhaps unsurprising given some of the views expressed on his popular sitcom.

The comic, who is the parent of two Duke students and whom the New York Times describes as an “active booster” of the school, has been a vocal supporter of Israel since the October 7 attack on the country by Hamas; his wife also made headlines for actively funding an ultimately violent pro-Israel counterprotest at UCLA last week.

The Times reports that when Seinfeld was announced as this year’s speaker, students such as PhD program grad the Rev. Dr. Stefan Weathers Sr. wrote to Price to oppose Seinfeld’s planned appearance, characterizing the ongoing war in Gaza as “genocide.” Speaking with the NYT, Weathers warned that “There won’t be a business-as-usual commencement taking place,” as students were poised to “lift up our voices any way we can.”

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