99.6% of Duke students didn’t walk out on Seinfeld’s graduation speech

Despite an unsupportive minority, nearly all in attendance stayed in their seats

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Comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who has been vocal in his support for Israel, sparked a minor walkout at Duke University before he gave a commencement speech on Sunday. The vast majority — that is, 99.6 per cent of students — stayed in their seats as the 0.4 per cent left the ceremony waving Palestinian flags and shouting “Free Palestine.”

The comedian is known for his long-running, eponymous television sitcom as well as his more recent interview series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

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On social media, conflicting numbers of exactly how many students walked out were circulating.

One person on X, formerly Twitter, calculated it was “probably around 200.” In a video posted online, students can be seen leaving a seated area in the middle of the Wallace Wade Stadium in North Carolina.

However, the total number of students who walked out was likely around 30 out of 7,000, according to the Associated Press.

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In another video taken from the crowd, a couple of attendees — one donning a keffiyeh, which has become a Palestinian symbol, and one holding a Palestinian flag — can be seen taking the stairs, walking away from the ceremony.

The person who posted the video suggested that the boos from the crowd were directed at the “anti-semites who walked out of graduation to protest Jerry Seinfeld,” rather than at the comedian.

Some attendees chanted “Jerry! Jerry!” when Seinfeld received his honorary degree from the university, Reuters reported.

Despite an unsupportive minority, nearly all in attendance stayed in their seats and listened to Seinfeld’s speech.

“A few walked out, thousands welcomed Jerry,” wrote one X user under the video posted online.

Seinfeld did not mention Israel while addressing the crowd. He spoke about the importance of humour and joked about using his upbringing as a privilege.

“Privilege is a word that has taken quite a beating lately. Privilege today seems to be the worst thing you can have. I would like to take a moment to defend it,” he said. “Again, a lot of you are thinking, I can’t believe they invited this guy. Too late. 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.”

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Pro-Palestinian protests have been a growing trend on American university campuses after the events of October 7, when terrorist organization Hamas led a surprise attack on Israel. Such protests led to the cancellation of Columbia University’s main graduation ceremony this year. Canadian students have also set up encampments, demanding that their schools cut ties with Israel. There are protests ongoing on campuses in Toronto, Montreal and Calgary.

Seinfeld travelled to Israel in December 2023, the Times of Israel reported, and visited freed hostages. He also wore a necklace that said “Bring them home” in reference to hostages still being held by Hamas.

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In a statement, a spokesperson from Duke University responded to the walkout.

“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,” Frank Tramble said, according to Reuters.

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