IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Duke students walk out of Jerry Seinfeld's commencement speech amid wave of graduation antiwar protests

Videos on social media showed a group of students with Palestinian flags walking down an aisle on the stadium field.
Get more newsLiveon

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld was met with a wave of boos Sunday when students at Duke University in North Carolina walked out just before his commencement speech, the latest in a wave of antiwar protests at college graduations across the country this weekend.

Not only was Seinfeld, 70, delivering the speech at the school’s football stadium, but he was also receiving an honorary degree from the school, where his son is enrolled and from which his daughter graduated. As he was being introduced, boos could be heard on the official commencement livestream.

At least one person in a mortar hat could be seen walking in front of the camera before the stream switched to a different side view. Videos on social media showed a group of students with Palestinian flags walking down an aisle on the stadium field.

Other students and some attendees in the bleachers also stood up from their seats and began walking out of the stadium.

It’s unclear whether the booing was intended for Seinfeld or the student protest or both, but chants of “Jerry” were heard shortly after. Seinfeld was later able to deliver his speech uninterrupted.

“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,” Duke spokesperson Frank Tramble said in a statement.

Jerry Seinfeld
Jerry Seinfeld in Los Angeles on April 30.David Swanson / Reuters

Seinfeld, who is Jewish, has been vocally supportive of Israel, and he visited the country after the Oct. 7 attack on Israel that sparked the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. More than 1,200 people, including civilians and soldiers, were killed in the Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7, and more than 35,000 people have been killed in Gaza in Israel’s subsequent counteroffensive in the Palestinian enclave.

Officials say 132 hostages remain captive in Gaza, including at least five American citizens. At least 37 of the hostages are believed to be dead, Israeli authorities have said.

Emerson College in Boston also had protests at its commencement Sunday. Some students ditched their graduation gowns, leaving them onstage, after they collected diplomas, while others emblazoned their graduation caps with "free Palestine." A student shouted "free Palestine" while accepting a diploma, and another crossed the stage with raised hands, "free Gaza" written across the palms.

Some students showed off Palestinian flags as they crossed the stage, and a number of graduates donned keffiyehs with their graduation garb.

Throughout the ceremony, speakers had to take long pauses during their speeches or speak loudly over chanting students.

Last month a wave of antiwar demonstrations began to take root on college campuses after students at Columbia University set up an encampment on their university’s lawn. The organizers cited previous university protests as their inspiration, including demonstrations against the Vietnam War and apartheid in South Africa.

Students demanded their universities divest from companies that profit either from war or from the occupation of Palestinian territories and cut ties to Israel, with many also asking their schools to call for an immediate cease-fire.

A crackdown by Columbia’s administration in the first week of the protest resulted in 108 arrests on campus. News of the arrests drew national attention and soon inspired solidarity protests all over the U.S. and at some international universities, as well.

Some universities also used police force to end the encampments, while others negotiated peaceful ends to the demonstrations with student leaders.

Columbia officials called police back to campus to disperse the protest after students took over Hamilton Hall, which student protesters also took over in the 1968 demonstration that inspired organizers. The university later canceled its commencement ceremony.

This weekend, graduations across the country were marked by their own antiwar demonstrations.

At the Virginia Commonwealth University ceremony Saturday, students walked out of Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin's commencement address. Though the school said disruptions would not be tolerated, the VCU chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine organized the silent walkout in protest of Youngkin’s policies, as well as his role in the arrests of pro-Palestinian student protesters last month.

Protests also erupted at different ceremonies at the University of California, Berkeley, on Friday and Saturday. During Friday’s law school graduation, students removed their gowns to reveal white shirts that read “UC Divest.” The school addressed the protest in a statement that said graduation was able to continue regardless.

The next day, chants of “Free Palestine” erupted as the student speaker tried to deliver her address at a different ceremony. A group of about 20 students stood up and waved Palestinian flags, as well, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

About 300 others stood up and moved to a different area of the venue, according to the Chronicle, as counterprotesters chanted, “Kick them out.”

Over the past week, a new wave of concern for civilian life in Gaza has taken hold as Israeli forces took over the Palestinian-controlled area of the Rafah border crossing shared with Egypt. Airstrikes have frequently taken place in Rafah, killing many people over the course of months, but the Israel Defense Forces had not deployed troops there before last week.

President Joe Biden has warned against an intensified Israeli operation in the border city, where more than 1 million people have taken refuge. Cease-fire negotiations also took place last week after Hamas announced it would agree to a framework for a hostage exchange, but Israeli officials said that proposal was unacceptable.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other members of his government have insisted that a full assault on Rafah is necessary to eliminate Hamas, describing it as the militant group’s final stronghold in the Palestinian enclave. He accused Hamas of trying to sabotage the Rafah operations with its statement that it had agreed to a cease-fire.

Civilians were again told to evacuate areas of Rafah on Saturday, and the IDF published a map showing that sectors of the city were now considered a “dangerous combat zone.” The military warned civilians that it would “act with extreme force against terrorist organizations in your area of ​​residence.”