Taylor Swift Delivers NYU Commencement Address
“I’m 90% sure the reason I’m here is because I have a song called ’22,’” quipped Taylor Swift, delivering the commencement address for New York University’s class of 2022 at a graduation ceremony held Wednesday. The pop superstar was awarded an honorary doctorate before giving a playful and reflective speech that lasted… no, not 22, but a little over 23 minutes.
“Last time I was in a stadium this size, I was dancing in heels and wearing a glittery leotard,” Swift noted. “This outfit is much more comfortable.”
Swift did not allude to many of her hit songs during the address, but did give in to the inevitable when she told out-of-town friends and relatives of the graduates, “Let me say to you now: Welcome to New York — it’s been waiting for you.”
She continued, “I’d like to thank NYU for making me technically, at paper at least, a doctor. Not the type of doctor you would want around in case of an emergency, unless your specific emergency was that you desperately needed to hear a song with a catchy hook and an intensely cathartic bridge section. Or if your emergency was that you needed a person who can name over 50 breeds of cats in one minute.” (Scroll down to read the address in its entirety.)
Swift received her Doctor of Fine Arts honor from Jason King, chair of the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, part of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. King drew an extra-loud amount of applause — and a goofy/triumphant facial expression from Swift — when, among the list of recordings he mentioned as among her accomplishments, he mentioned “two re-recorded studio albums.” That was in reference to the “Taylor’s Version” series of albums she embarked upon after splitting from Big Machine; he further mentioned how Swift has “fearlessly challenged the exploitation of music artists” in her career.
Swift congratulated the graduates for getting through under unusual circumstances, “essentially locked into your dorms or having to do classes over Zoom. Everyone in college during normal times stresses about test scores, but on top of that you also had to pass like a thousand COVID tests. I imagine the idea of a normal college experience was all you wanted, too. But in this case you and I both learned that you don’t always get all the things in the bag that you selected from the menu in the delivery service that is life. You get what you get. And as I would like to say to you, you should be very proud of what you’ve done with it.”
Contrasting herself with the grads’ histories of formal education, the singer-songwriter noted that she did drop out of formal schooling after the 10th grade, at which point the rest of her high school consisted of her mother home-schooling her while they sat on the floors of airports as Swift went out on radio tours. These weeks-long visits to country radio stations consisted, she said, of “a rental car, motels and my mom and I pretending to have loud mother-daughter fights with each other during boarding so no one would want the empty seat between us on Southwest. .”
Moving on to what she called “unsolicited advice” that might have actually been solicited by NYC, Swift urged the graduating students to “learn to live alongside cringe. No matter how hard you try to avoid being cringe, you will look back on your life and cringe retrospectively. Cringe is unavoidable over a lifetime. Even the term cringe might someday be deemed cringe. ” She promised that even some of the things students are doing or wearing today are things they will “find revolting and hilarious… For example, I had a phase where, for the entirely of 2012, I dressed like a 1950s housewife. But you know what? I was having fun. Trends and phases are fun. Looking back and laughing is fun.”
On a more serious note, she said, “I’m a big advocate for not hiding your enthusiasm for things. It seems to me that there is a false stigma of eagerness in our culture of unbothered ambivalence. … Never be ashamed of trying. Effortlessness is a myth. The people who wanted it the least were the ones I wanted to date and be friends with in high school. The people who want it most are the people I now hire to work for my company.”
Swift told the grads that all of them are writers, to some extent, like she is. “I’ve made and released 11 albums and in the process switched rom country to pop to alternative to folk. This might sound like a very singer-songwriter-focused line of attention.” But, she said, “You write differently in your Instagram stories than you do in your thesis… We are all literary chameleons, and I think it’s fascinating.”
The singer touched at length on backlashes she has received since being in the public eye starting at the age of 15. “Being the youngest person in every room for over a decade meant that I was constantly being issued warnings from older members of the music industry, the media, interviewers, executives. This advice often presented itself as thinly veiled warnings. See, I was a teenager in the public eye at a time when our society was absolutely obsessed with the idea of having perfect young female role models. It felt like every interview I did included slight barbs by the interviewer about me one day ‘running off the rails’. … I became a young adult while being fed the message that if I didn’t make any mistakes, all the children of America would grow up to be perfect angels. However, if I did slip up, the entire earth would fall off its axis and it would be entirely my fault and I would go to pop star jail forever and ever. It was all centered around the idea that mistakes equal failure and ultimately, the loss of any chance at a happy or rewarding life. This has not been my experience. My experience has been that my mistakes led to the best things in my life… Getting back up, dusting yourself off and seeing who still wants to hang out with you afterward and laugh about it? That’s a gift.”
Alluding to the period in which much of America seemed to be taking sides in what was seen as a war of credibility between her and Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, she admitted: “Getting canceled on the Internet and nearly losing my career gave me an excellent knowledge of all the types of wine.”
“I know the pressure of living your life through the lens of perfectionism. And I know I’m talking to a group of perfectionists because you are here today graduating from NYU,” she said. “In your life, you will inevitably misspeak, trust the wrong people, under-react, overreact, hurt the people who didn’t deserve it, overthink, not think at all, self sabotage, create a reality where only your experience exists, ruin perfectly good moments for yourself and others, deny any wrongdoing, not take the steps to make it right, feel very guilty, let the guilt eat at you, hit rock bottom, finally address the pain you caused, try to do better next time — rinse, repeat. And I’m not gonna lie, these mistakes will cause you to lose things. I’m trying to tell you that losing things doesn’t just mean losing. A lot of the time, when we lose things, we gain things too.”
“As long as we are fortunate enough to be breathing, we will breathe through, breath deep and breathe out. And I am a doctor now, so I know how breathing works.”
In conclusion, Swift said, harking back to that “Red”-era numerical hit, “Let’s keep dancing like we’re the class of ’22.”
Earlier in the morning, Swift posted to Instagram and TikTok a short montage showing herself traveling through New York before and after donning her cap and gown, and of her father taking snapshots of her in her graduation gear.
Three graduating classes are being honoroed today. Swift is part of what is described as a “traditional” ceremony for the current graduating class on the morning of May 18. Separately, in the evening, the university will be holding a “double-header” commencement for the classes of 2020 and 2021, who weren’t able to have a traditional ceremony earlier due to the pandemic.
Disability rights activist Judith Heumann will address the graduates at Yankee Stadium at the evening ceremony. Heumann was featured in the film “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution,” which was nominated fo best documentary at last year’s Oscars. She is the author of the 2020 book “Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist” and produces the podcast “The Heumann Perspective,” which features members of the disability community. Other honorary degree recipients include Lonnie Bunch III, Susan Hockfield, Jill Lepore, and Félix Matos Rodríguez.
Continue reading here for Swift’s complete speech.