Jerry Seinfeld knows his way around handling awkward moments onstage. Even so, the initial reception he faced at Duke University’s commencement on Sunday reflected a more complicated audience than usual.

As Mr. Seinfeld, who has recently been vocal about his support for Israel, received an honorary degree, dozens of students walked out and chanted, “Free, free Palestine,” while the comedian looked on and smiled tensely.

Many in the crowd jeered the protesters. Minutes later, as the last of the protesters were filing out, he approached the mic. His first words were: “Thank you. Oh my God, what a beautiful day.”

In his commencement speech, Mr. Seinfeld was mostly cautious, opting for a tight comedic script interspersed with life advice instead of a full-on response to the protests against his presence.

Still, in one part of his speech, he defended various types of privilege and appeared to hint at the elephant in the room.

“I grew up a Jewish boy from New York,” he said to applause from the crowd. “That is a privilege if you want to be a comedian.”


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