Duke graduates who walked out on Jerry Seinfeld's commencement speech failed Life 101

Roughly 30 of the 7,000 students at Sunday’s Duke University graduation ceremony walked out at the beginning of the commencement address by comedian Jerry Seinfeld.

They oppose Seinfeld’s support for Israel in its war with Hamas and chanted “free Palestine” on their way out.

News reporters, caught up in the many college campus disturbances over the war in Gaza, decided that the protest was the most relevant news story that day.

It wasn’t. It was the speech.

It’s worth watching and listening to, particularly the bit at the end.

Seinfeld's Duke speech was filled with bits

Seinfeld’s speech was filled with bits. That’s how comedians work. And the best of them, like Seinfeld, become philosophers in disguise, rummaging through the profound by way of the ridiculous.

“I can’t imagine how sick you are of hearing about following your passion. I say the hell with passion,” he told the graduates.

“Find fascination. Fascination is way better than passion. It’s not so sweaty …

“Find something where you love the good parts and don’t mind the bad parts too much. The torture you’re comfortable with. This is the golden path to victory in life.”

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Never lose your sense of humor, he told them

Seinfeld’s connection to the university is by way of a daughter who graduated from Duke and a son who attends the university.

He hit on a lot of conventional commencement address topics. Ambition. Money. Achievement.

But what he really wanted to talk about was something more important than all of that. Particularly in today’s world:


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He said, “I totally admire the ambitions of your generation to create a more just and inclusive society.

“I think it is also wonderful that you care so much about not hurting other people’s feelings in the million and one ways we all do that every second of every day.

“It’s lovely to want to fix those things but – all caps – BUT, what I need to tell you as a comedian, do not lose your sense of humor.

“You can have no idea at this point in your life how much you are going to need it to get through. Not enough of life makes sense for you to be able to survive it without humor.”

The art of enjoying 'the dumbness of it all'

He came back to the topic again and again, saying, “Humor is the most powerful, most survival-essential quality you will ever have or need to navigate through the human experience.”

And he ended with it, saying something the graduates who had walked out could have used, something the reporters who wrote about the graduates walking out should have recognized, something the rest of us – in an election year – desperately need to hear.

Life 101.

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“And humor is not just for the stress relief,” Seinfeld said, “or even just the simple fun of laughing, but for the true perspective of the silliness of all humans and all existence.

“That’s why you don’t want to lose it. Try to enjoy some of the dumbness of it all. That’s the best life advice I can give you.”

EJ Montini is a news columnist at The Arizona Republic/azcentral.com, where this column first published. Reach him at ed.montini@arizonarepublic.com

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Seinfeld speech at Duke offered the one thing his protesters lack