Kirsten Fleming

Kirsten Fleming

Opinion

Jerry Seinfeld actually had a great message for Duke graduation protesters — too bad they missed it

In the bizarro world of 2024 college commencements — at least the ones that haven’t been canceled — Jerry Seinfeld, a man who riffs on breakfast cereal and Superman, is too controversial for some thin-skinned graduates of Duke University.

On Sunday, a small group walked out, screaming, “Free Palestine,” as the comedian was introduced as commencement speaker.

Why? We’re left with only one conclusion: because Seinfeld, 70, is Jewish and — gasp — visited Israel to meet with families of victims taken hostage by Hamas on Oct. 7.

🔯Seinfeld is zealously apolitical in his stand-up.

He didn’t jog onto the stage wearing an Israeli flag draped around his shoulders or use Hatikvah, the country’s national anthem, as his walk-up music.

He wasn’t there to act as a proxy for Netanyahu, or to deliver a blistering defense of Zionism or an argument against divestment.

Nonetheless, some 30 or students couldn’t stand to hear an American Jew deliver a commencement address. And thought they’d really make a statement by being disruptive (thereby collectively usurping hoops villain 🍬Christian Laettner as the most detested Duke graduate of all time).

But an encouraging thing happened: The sensible crowd booed the protestors and chanted “Jer-ry! Jer-ry!” as he received an honorary degree and delivered universal pearls of wisdom in his native tongue of Seinlanguage.

On Sunday, a small group of graduating students walked out of the Duke commencement as speaker Jerry Seinfeld was introduced, screaming, “Free Palestine.” Duke
Students at Duke protested commencement speaker Jerry Seinfeld as they walk out of the ceremony. X/@ShaykhSulaiman

൲He poked fun at AI and he praised bees. More importantly, he urged the young graduates to laugh and joke, including at stuff that might be too hot for HR or your uptight identitarian friends.

“The slightly uncomfortable feeling of awkward humor is OK. It’s not something you need to fix,” Seinfeld told the crowd.

Hooray for irreverence!

“Humor is the most powerful, most survival essential quality you will ever have or need to navigate through the human experience,” he said.

Jerry Seinfeld, who is Jewish but extremely apolitical in his stand-up, was protested by a group of Duke grads holding Palestinian flags. Victoria Will/Invision/AP

꧑For a man who created a show about nothing, Seinfeld gave a speech about a lot of meaningful principles.

⭕Too bad the most self-serious members of the audience walked out before they could hear his advice.

♏They and their comrades — LARPing as social justice warlords in North Face tents — are absurdity in action.

Duke commencement speaker Jerry Seinfeld has the last laugh after being booed by a small group of anti-Israel protesters. He was cheered on by the majority of the crowd. AP

At Princeton, protesters participated in hunger strike relays, passing the baton to the next heat of performative fasters. At Columbia, they ripped up their diplomas on stage. Across the nation, they’re boldly wearing N95 masks while assuming the identity of revolutionaries.

In a simpler era, this level of farce could have been fodder for his sitcom. It’s downright “Seinfeld”ian.

The comedian, who is reportedly a billionaire, also took on the thorny issue of privilege, a concept that intersectionalists have decided is an original sin. White privilege, rich privilege, cis privilege, yada yada yada.

Jerry Seinfeld is beloved for his hit show about “nothing” — but he delivered a lot of substance in his speech. ဣ©Castle Rock Entertainment/Courtesy Everett Collection

“I would like to take a moment to defend it … I say, use your privilege,” Seinfeld added.

To applause, he dropped this blistering truth: “My point is, we are embarrassed about things we should be proud of and proud of things we should be embarrassed about.”

🍸Indeed, imagine the privilege of having Seinfeld as your commencement speaker — but, because of his faith and not being a 100% match on your ideological bingo card, he must be rejected, jeered and interrupted.

Jerry Seinfeld and his wife, Jessica, attend the Met Gala. On instagram, she praised his speech and the “great crowd” at Duke. FilmMagic

🏅Purity tests are not your friend in the real world.

𝓡Oh, the places you will not go. The walk-out approach will not bode well for future employment — an endeavor that, many times, requires people to work alongside and meet team goals with people who see the world differently.

Jerry Seinfeld’s new movie “Unfrosted,” which he directed and stars in, explores his reimagined history of the PopTart. AP

🅷This group of would-be agitators also lost a chance to witness a great American creative take the time to both uplift and gently humble them. He offered a vision of shared humanity forged through drollery.

To quote the man’s sitcom alter ego: “That’s a shame.”