Seinfeld and Kreeft: Commencement Speeches

Jerry Seinfeld gave an absolute smasher of a graduation speech at Duke University a couple of weeks ago. A handful of Jew-haters screeched and whined (and the media made it sound like there were a billion of them) and were promptly booed by the rest of the students and escorted out of the place. Good thing, because everything about this speech is terrific. Best parts, in my view, are about how most things that you try in life don’t work but you must keep trying (so, so true) and about how we are ashamed/embarrassed by things we should take pride in and proud of stuff that should mortify us (also true). Seinfeld and his wife are open supporters of Israel, proud Zionists and naturally, have gotten grief and heckles (see above) for those things – things which should cause no one any grief or heckles – and it has not deterred them. I can’t help but think that the vicious reviews of Seinfeld’s Netflix film, Unfrosted, are due to that, perhaps in part, perhaps entirely. For Seinfeld – both the man and the show – were never political and now he has become “political,” simply because he supports an ally, the one Jewish state, a Western democracy. He and his wife, quite wonderfully, visited Israel in the aftermath of October 7th and met with hostage families, survivors and soldiers.

For the record, while Unfrosted was not The Third Man, it was intermittently hilarious, great fun, witty and full of top-of-the-line and over-the-top performances from an impressive comic cast (including Hugh Grant in a scene-snatching role). It turned the breakfast cereal wars of the 1960s into the space war and the whole thing was done in dazzling technicolour, a la Rock Hudson/Doris Day films of the era. It probably helps to be of a certain age to get it. But I mean, the reviews were disproportionately nasty, cruel and personal. It wasn’t as though people wrote, “Oh well, this was fun in parts, but doesn’t fully hold together,” or “Imaginative and clever but misses the mark.” The nature of the negative reviews seemed like bullying. The bullying did not work, though, as it was one of the most streamed/watched shows on Netflix in the weeks after its release.

All that said, here is Seinfeld’s speech at Duke.

Words of wisdom.

And another great commencement speech, this one from philosopher Peter Kreeft at Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2022. Kreeft shoots down all the happy face thoughts of our time, and he does so with grace, self-deprecation and kindness.

More words of wisdom.

I could have used keynotes like this as a 21-year-old. Honestly, they come in handy now. (I did not go to my graduation, either from high school or university, as my parents had no desire to attend either and loudly stated as such. On one occasion they were hardly speaking – to each other or me – and on another they were attending the graduation of the son of the guy who owned my dad’s favourite bar. So there was that.)