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Home » Jerry Seinfeld’s Speech At Duke’s 2024 Commencement (Transcript)

Jerry Seinfeld’s Speech At Duke’s 2024 Commencement (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of award-winning comedian Jerry Seinfeld’s commencement address at Duke’s 2024 university-wide commencement ceremony in Wallace Wade Stadium on May 12, 2024.

Listen to the audio version here:

TRANSCRIPT:

Thank you. Oh my God, what a beautiful day. What a beautiful class. We love you guys.

I am here today at the gracious invitation of President Price and the Duke Board of Trustees. Because after spending four years at what is considered one of the finest institutions of higher education in the world, they apparently feel that perhaps some light entertainment will get you all to the final realization. You know, I think I’ve really had enough of this place. Let’s bring in a comedian.

Let’s bring the sophistication and erudition of the Duke experience down a couple notches. And I thought, maybe that does make sense. Maybe the thinking was, what we really want is to just get these kids the hell out of here. What would give them that last final push?

Because what you might not be fully aware of is that the entire time you have been at this wonderful university, we have been meeting and talking to other kids that we would like to replace you with. Not because we weren’t happy with you. Not at all. You have been great. It’s just, you know, we want you to see what’s out there. I don’t want to say exactly how many kids we talked to. It’s roughly this many. And we met a lot of wonderful kids a lot.

Was there a time when we were thrilled to have you come here to learn, grow and flourish? Of course, there was… that time has passed. We do offer graduate programs in a number of different disciplines. If you and your parents want to stall your ultimate uselessness for a few more years.

I can’t imagine how sick you are of hearing about following your passion. I say, the hell with passion. Find something you can do that would be great if you try something and it doesn’t work. That’s okay too.

Most things do not work. Most things are not good. You know this already. From your short lives. You leave the house. You come back. How was Pi and hard, it was okay. That’s why everyone tries so hard to get in here. Duke actually is really good. The school is the square handicap button that opens the Brodhead doors to your life. Unless it’s those heavy wooden doors at the West Union. Those will kill you.

Let Go of Finding One Great Passion

Let go of this idea that you have to find this one great thing. That is my passion, my great passion. With your shirt torn open and your heaving, pec muscles. It’s embarrassing.

Just be willing to do your work as hard as you can with the ability you have. We don’t need the heavy breathing and the outstretched arm from your passion. It makes coworkers uncomfortable in the cubicle next to you. Find fascination. Fascination is way better than passion. It’s not so sweaty.

Three Real Keys to Life

I will give you my three real keys to life. No jokes in this part, okay? They are number one. Bust your ass. Number two. Pay attention. Number three. Fall in love.

Number one. You obviously already know. Whatever you’re doing, I don’t care if it’s your job, your hobby, your relationship. Getting a reservation at M Sushi. Make an effort. Just pure stupid. No real idea what I’m doing here effort. Effort always yields a positive value. Even if the outcome of the effort is absolute failure of the desired result. This is a rule of life. Just swing the bat and pray is not a bad approach to a lot of things.

Number two. Pay attention. If you’re in a small submersible that looks like a giant kazoo and going to visit the Titanic seven miles down at the bottom of the ocean, and the captain of the vessel is using a Gameboy controller. Pay attention to that.

What are you checking out down there? Oh, I see what happened. This ship sank. Now I understand why it never made it into port. If the fish where you are have eyes like Shelley Duvall and a bendy straw with a work blade hanging off their head, you do not belong there. If the fish are going, I can’t see a goddamn thing. You won’t either.

Number three, fall in love. It’s easy to fall in love with people. I suggest falling in love with anything and everything. Every chance you get. Fall in love with your coffee, your sneakers, your blue zone parking space.

I’ve had a lot of fun in life. Falling in love with stupid, meaningless physical objects. But the object I love the most is the clear barrel BIC pen, $1.29 for a box of ten. I can fall in love with a car turn signal switch that has a nice feel to it. A pizza crust that collapses with just the right amount of pressure.

I have truly spent my life focusing on the smallest things imaginable, completely oblivious to all the big issues of living. 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. Work. Exercise. Relationships. They all have a solid component of pure torture, and they are all 1,000% worth it.

Privilege Is a Good Thing

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. 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. Thanks.

If I messed up a funny story around my relatives, they would go: That’s not how you tell that joke. The prostitute has to be behind the drapes when the wife comes in. You went to Duke. That is an unbelievable privilege. I now have an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters degree from Duke University. And if I can figure out a way to use that, I will. I haven’t figured anything out yet. I think it’s pretty much as useful in real life as this outfit I’m wearing. But so what? I’ll take it.

My point is, we’re embarrassed about things we should be proud of and proud of things we should be embarrassed about. When I was writing my TV series… Thanks. What a crowd.

So on my staff in the 90s, we had a lot of Harvard guys. They were fantastic, but I could never understand why these guys were so embarrassed about being from Harvard. They would never talk about it. They would never mention it. I’m not talking about Harvard now. I’m talking about the way it used to be. You’re never going to believe this. Harvard used to be a great place to go to school. Now it’s Duke.

You didn’t fake your fabulous education. You earned it. Be proud of it. Don’t just drop it on people right before you serve in pickleball. Okay? Duke 24, coming at you. But if it comes up, if someone asks, don’t say it. Looking down, stubbing your toe in the dirt. When someone asks, where did you go to school? You say, I went to Duke. Watch them take that uncomfortable hard swallow.

AI Is Embarrassing

AI, on the other hand, is the most embarrassing thing we’ve ever invented in mankind’s time on Earth. Oh, so you can’t do the work? Is that what you’re telling me? You can’t figure it out. This seems to be the justification of AI – I couldn’t do it. This is something to be embarrassed about. The ad campaign for ChatGPT GPT should be the opposite of Nike. You just can’t do it.

Making fake brains is risky. Frankenstein proved that he was so dumb he thought a monster needed a sport jacket. It’s not a wine tasting. We’re terrorizing villagers. No one’s going to tell you. I’m sorry, Mr. Stein, it’s jackets only this evening. What I like is we’re smart enough to invent I dumb enough to need it. And still so stupid we can’t figure out if we did the right thing.

Making work easier. This is the problem. So obsessed with getting to the answer, completing the project, producing a result which are all valid things, but not where the richness of the human experience lies. The only two things you ever need to pay attention to in life are work and love. Things that are self justified in the experience and who cares about the result.

Stop rushing to what you perceive as some valuable endpoint. Learn to enjoy the expenditure of energy that may or may not be on the correct path. Now, if you have been at this amazing place for four years and still have no idea what you like, what you’re interested in, or what you want to do in life, you are the luckiest ones here.

Those of you that think you know what you want to do are very likely wrong, and perhaps even overestimating your ability to do it. You have convinced yourself that you know who you are and what’s going on in the world. You don’t know either. The less secure and confident you feel in the direction, the more surprises and excitement you will have in store. That’s good.

So the better the job you’ve done in finding a path for yourself, the more boring and predictable your life is going to be. If you’re sitting here today completely confused, feeling lost, adrift, and totally abandoned, you might even be a genie. I say congratulations, you win the Duke commencement ceremonies of 2024. You are about to go on a hell of a ride.

Work Is Wonderful

About work, you know how they always say nobody ever looks back on their life and wishes they spent more time at the office? Well, why? Why don’t they? Guess what? Depends on the job. If you took a stupid job that you find out you hate and you don’t leave, that’s your fault.

Don’t blame work. Work is wonderful. I definitely will not be looking back on my life wishing I worked less. If that’s not how you feel at work. Quit. On your lunch break. Disappear. Make people go. What happened to that guy? I don’t know, he said he was getting something to eat. Never came back. The one thing I know about this gang here you are all worker bees. And I mean that as the highest compliment.

I love bees. Beautiful, amazing. Elegant society. I made a cartoon movie about bees you may have watched as a child. If any of you felt slightly uncomfortable all about the sexual undertones in the relationship between Barry the Bee and Vanessa, the florist who saved his life, I would like to apologize for that now, I may not have calibrated that perfectly, but I would not change it.

Don’t Lose Your Sense of Humor

And this is probably the biggest point I would like to make to you here today regarding humor. I’m going to try and reach across a couple generations here to tell you the most important thing. I am confident that I know about life. I’m 70. I’m done. You are just starting. I only want to help you.

The slightly uncomfortable feeling of awkward humor is okay. It’s not something you need to fix. 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 and 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.

And I know all of you here are going to use all of your brains and muscle and soul to improve the world, and I know you’re going to do a bang up job, and when you’re done, as I am now, I bet the world because of you will be a much better place. But it will still not make a whole hell of a lot of sense. It’ll be a better, different, but still pretty insane mess, and it is worth the sacrifice of an occasional discomfort to have some laughs. Don’t lose that.

Even if it’s at the cost of occasional hard feelings, it’s okay. You got to laugh. That is the one thing at the end of your life you will not wish you did less of. Humor is the most powerful, most survival, essential quality you will ever have or need to navigate through the human experience. The other thing I see going on that throws a lot of people… Thank you. I was hoping you’d like that part.

Go for the Coolest Job

The other thing I see going on that throws a lot of people off these days is thinking, I’ve got to make as much money as I can. I personally believe the real game is I want to have the coolest job. When I started out as a comedian, I did not think I was funny. I thought, I’m a little funny. Maybe I wouldn’t have to be that funny. I just have to be funny enough to feed one person. And I could do that with a loaf of wonder bread in a jar, peanut butter, a loaf of bread and some peanut butter.

That was my actual plan. That’s how you think when you do not have a Duke education. I just wanted to have this super cool job. And cool is a word not easily defined. It’s really just whatever you think is cool. So just go for what you think is the coolest.

Money will be made eventually, somehow. Try not to think about it so much. I see this messing people up a lot. Put it to the side a little. Don’t think about having, think about becoming. Having is fine, but focus on becoming. That is where it’s at.

And I know you’re not really even listening to this speech, and that’s okay, I wouldn’t either. You’re graduating. You’re thinking about yourself or timing your mobile order from Yalla! truck. That’s all cool.

But the one thing I really do care about communicating to you is don’t lose your humor. Forget the rest. Forget your education, your degree, your privilege. All of you here would do fantastically well without any of it. All of you here, without question, are the best of the best.

Just don’t lose your, your humor. It’s not an accessory. It’s your Stanley Cup water bottle on the brutal long hike of life. And humor is not just for the stress relief or even just a 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. I wish you luck. I wish you love. Thanks for the phony degree and the ridiculous outfit. Go get him, Duke. Class of 24. Throw the hat up. Let’s get out of here. Congratulations.

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