What's the deal with Jerry Seinfeld? His Duke University address sparks student walkout

Duke University enlisted “Seinfeld” funnyman Jerry Seinfeld to deliver its 2024 commencement speech, but not every graduate stayed for his punchline.

Before the “Unfrosted” star delivered his 17-minute speech over the weekend, dozens of pro-Palestinian student protesters walked out of the outdoor ceremony on Sunday, boycotting the comedian who has been a vocal supporter of Israel amid its ongoing war in Gaza. Student protesters, donning their graduation caps and gowns, unfurled large Palestinian flags and chanted “Free Palestine,” according to ABC 11.

A representative for Seinfeld declined to comment to The Times on Monday.

In videos of the walkout at the North Carolina school, which have spread on social media, the student protesters garnered mixed reactions as some audience members cheered and applauded their demonstration. Others booed the boycott and chanted Seinfeld’s name, Duke University’s student newspaper the Chronicle reported Sunday.

The student protest at Duke University comes amid ongoing tension on college campuses over the Israel-Hamas war, which began Oct. 7 after an attack against Israel by Hamas that killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, from which about 250 people were taken hostage. Israel’s offensive has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in Gaza.

In recent weeks, pro-Palestinian student protesters across the country have called on their respective campuses to disclose and pull investments in Israeli-linked companies. Some student demonstrators established on-campus encampments as part of their efforts, which sparked mixed reactions from pro-Israel demonstrators and counterprotesters.

In March, Duke University announced Seinfeld would address the graduating class of 2024. Weeks before Seinfeld took the stage, his wife Jessica Seinfeld came under fire for supporting pro-Israel counterprotesters at UCLA.

Jessica Seinfeld donated at least $5,000 to a GoFundMe campaign benefiting counterprotesters, the Daily Beast reported. Days after the GoFundMe was created, counterprotesters unleashed a violent attack against the pro-Palestinian encampment at UCLA.

During Sunday’s ceremony, Jerry Seinfeld delivered his speech after the protesters’ walkout. He encouraged the graduating class of 2024 to be open to opportunities, embrace their “privilege” and keep their sense of humor as they fully enter adulthood. He also apologized to the graduates for his 2007 animated film, “Bee Movie.”

“If any of you felt slightly uncomfortable about all the sexual undertones … I would like to apologize for that now,” he said.

Duke University also feted the “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” actor, 70, with an honorary doctor of arts degree during Sunday’s ceremony. While celebrating her husband’s address and honorary degree, Jessica Seinfeld wrote on Instagram about the student protesters.

“Despite their efforts, it had no impact on the ceremony. In fact, they were boo’d and it inspired the crowd of 7,000 to chant ‘Jer-ry! Jer-ry! Jer-ry!’ and applaud even louder,” she wrote. “Jerry’s speech was amazing and received a standing ovation from grads and their parents.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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