Jerry Seinfeld’s commencement speech spurs student walkout at Duke University

Click to play video: 'Jerry Seinfeld prompts Duke University graduates to leave commencement ceremony following Israel support'
Jerry Seinfeld prompts Duke University graduates to leave commencement ceremony following Israel support
WATCH: Dozens of graduates at Duke University in Durham, N.C., walked out of their own commencement ceremony in protest on Sunday, when comedian Jerry Seinfeld was announced and brought out as the guest speaker.

As comedian Jerry Seinfeld took the stage at a commencement ceremony at North Carolina’s Duke University on Sunday, several pro-Palestinian student protesters staged a walkout in their caps and gowns.

Seinfeld, who received an honorary degree, was being introduced by school president Vincent Price when both booing and cheering sounded from the commencement crowd. According to video from the incident, some students stood from their seats and exited the university’s football stadium carrying Palestinian flags and chanting, “Free, free Palestine.”

The 70-year-old comedian, who is Jewish, has been an ongoing supporter of Israel. He was one of 700 Hollywood figures to sign an open letter condemning Hamas and supporting Israel’s right to defend itself in the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack in southern Israel, which killed 1,200 people.

Gaza’s health ministry on Sunday reported the death toll in Israel’s military operation in Gaza has now passed 35,000 people, most of them women and children.

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Seinfeld did not acknowledge the protests in his speech. He kept the subject matter light and offered advice to the 2024 graduates — and even apologized for the “sexual undertones” in his 2007 animated film Bee Movie. 

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Many students stayed to hear Seinfeld’s speech. Some in the crowd cheered for the comic and chanted his name in support.

Local news station WRAL-TV reported Seinfeld encouraged graduates to live by three tenets, “Work hard, pay attention, fall in love.”

“Make an effort. Just pure, stupid, no-real-idea-what-I’m-doing-here effort,” Seinfeld said. “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.”

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As he spoke, protesters continued their chanting from outside Wallace Wade Stadium, repeating “Disclose, divest, we will not stop, we will not rest.” The New York Times reported the protesters moved to a green space on campus where they met with hundreds of others, including some faculty and relatives. There, a makeshift graduation was staged.

A livestream of the commencement ceremony did not show the student walkout.

In a statement to CBS News, Duke’s vice-president for marketing, communications and public affairs, Frank Tramble, said the university supports peaceful protest.

“We’re excited and delighted for the Class of 2024 and their families. We understand the depth of feeling in our community, and as we have all year, we respect the right of everyone at Duke to express their views peacefully, without preventing graduates and their families from celebrating their achievement,” the statement reads.

Seinfeld, who in December 2023 travelled to Tel Aviv to meet with families of the hostages, in April discussed antisemitism with GQ. The comedian was relatively tight-lipped but said he was “surprised” by the reaction to the Oct. 7 attack.

“I don’t preach about it. I have my personal feelings about it that I discuss privately,” he said. “It’s not part of what I can do comedically, but my feelings are very strong.”

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Last month, while on an extensive press tour for his new Netflix film Unfrosted, Seinfeld provoked ire when he said that “PC crap ” and the “extreme left” have killed TV comedy.

Seinfeld has three children, two of whom attended Duke University.

Duke is only one of many academic institutions that have seen Pro-Palestinian students protest or establish encampments on an international scale. Many of the student protests, including those on Canadian campuses, have called for institutions to divest and boycott from arms suppliers, companies and individuals that support Israel’s military operation in Gaza.

The encampments were and are often controversial, with many politicians urging the universities to take action. Police have been used to clear several university encampments in the U.S., including at Columbia University.

Click to play video: 'U.S. campus protests see violence, arrests'
U.S. campus protests see violence, arrests

— With files from The Associated Press


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