Duke University graduates walk out ahead of Jerry Seinfeld’s commencement address

May 12, 2024
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Dozens of students walked out of Duke University’s commencement ceremony on Sunday as actor and comedian Jerry Seinfeld was about to give his address, according to videos posted on social media.

In a video posted on X, people were seen waving Palestinian flags and filing out of the crowd of graduates at the North Carolina university’s football stadium.

Duke University President Vincent Price’s introduction to Seinfeld was drowned out by some people chanting “free Palestine,” while others shouted “Jerry! Jerry!”

The 70-year-old Seinfeld, who has supported Israel since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants, recently sparked controversy over his comments on what remains acceptable fodder for comedy today.

On Sunday, he received an honorary degree from Duke and delivered the commencement address without major interruptions, a livestream of the ceremony showed. The livestream did not show the students walking out.

His speech largely steered clear of politics and instead focused on jokes about the students, artificial intelligence and privilege.

“A lot of you are thinking, ‘I can’t believe they invited this guy.’ Too late,” he said, after vowing to “defend” the concept of privilege.

“I say, use your privilege. I grew up a Jewish boy from New York. That is a privilege if you want to be a comedian,” he added.

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

The actor has not commented publicly on the walkout. 

In a statement to CBS News, Frank Tramble, vice president for marketing, communications and public affairs at Duke, said: “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 demonstration by students is the latest manifestation of protests that have roiled U.S. campuses for several weeks as students call for universities to divest from arms suppliers and other companies fueling and profiting from the war.

The protests prompted universities such as Columbia and the University of Southern California to cancel or restructure their main graduation ceremonies.

At the University of Michigan, students briefly interrupted the ceremony earlier this month.

“Peaceful protests like this have taken place at U-M commencement ceremonies for decades,” university spokesperson Colleen Mastony said after the ceremony.

This week, Xavier University of Louisiana and the University of Vermont rescinded a commencement invitation to United Nations Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield because of student outcry over the conflict in the Gaza Strip. Administrators at both universities cited pressure from students and the community over the Biden administration’s support for Israel in its war with Hamas.

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a small group of demonstrators staged what appeared to be a silent protest during commencement at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday. A photo posted by the Wisconsin State Journal showed about six people walking through the rear of the stadium, with two carrying a Palestinian flag.

Marc Lovicott, a spokesperson for campus police, said the group, which he believed were students because they were wearing caps and gowns, “was kind of guided out but they left on their own.” No arrests were made.

Dozens of graduating students at Virginia Commonwealth University walked out on an address by Gov. Glenn Youngkin. While some of the estimated 100 students and family members who left during the Republican governor’s speech showed support for Palestinians, others held signs signaling opposition to Youngkin’s policies on education, according to WRIC-TV.

At the University of Texas, Austin, a student held up a Palestinian flag during a commencement ceremony and refused to leave the stage briefly before being escorted away by security.

And at the University of California, Berkeley, a small group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators began waving flags and chanting during commencement and were escorted to the back of the stadium, where they were joined by others, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. There were no major counterprotests, but some attendees voiced frustration.

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