Trust Doctor Taylor Swift to give a commencement address (for the NYU graduating class of 2022) that has its fair share of jokes, as well as earnest life lessons.
Ladies and gentlemen, Dr. Taylor Alison Swift. Throughout her career, Taylor Swift has worn many hats: musician, actress, producer, director, philanthropist, cat lover. And now, she can add doctor to that list, manifesting a dream that she let out into the world during her 73 Questions interview with Vogue. On the morning of May 18, New York time, she received a Doctor of Fine Arts honor from Jason King, chair of the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music from New York University.
After being given a glowing introduction that both honored her musical and philanthropic achievements, Taylor was bestowed an honorary doctorate. She then went on to give the commencement address to the graduation class of 2022. For her first public appearance of 2022, Taylor delivered a 23-minute address at Yankee Stadium. (Sadly, the 22-minute mark was a missed opportunity.)
“Hi, I’m Taylor,” she began, as if it was no big deal. The last time she was in a stadium this big, she was “dancing in heels and wearing a glittery leotard,” and now expressing how she feels that she’s there because “I have a song called 22, there were a lot of references that a true Swiftie would know by heart. She even pulled a line from 1989 by saying, “Welcome to New York. It’s been waiting for you,” after of course, taking the time to praise New York University’s Class of 2022 for graduating and surviving during a pandemic, as well as giving thanks to those who helped them get to where they are. “We are each a patchwork quilt of those who have loved us,” she quipped.
But more importantly, Taylor used her address to share some important worldly wisdom that she learned throughout her historic career. Anyone can relate to what she had to say, even if you weren’t at Yankee Stadium, but it was more poignant for us at the cusp of the rest our lives. Here are some of the life lessons Taylor Swift imparted on us.
LEARN TO LET GO AND APPRECIATE THE SMALLER THINGS IN LIFE
Entering a new phase in your life can be exciting. But it can also be heavy as there are so many things to now take into consideration. For Taylor Swift, life shouldn’t always be about dealing with everything at all times. “Life can be heavy, especially if you try to carry it all at once…Part of growing up and moving into new chapters of your life is about catch and release. What I mean by that is, knowing what things to keep, and what things to release.” She explains to the crowd that you shouldn’t devote all your time and energy to things that take up negative energy. “You get to pick what your life has time and room for. Be discerning.”
To that end, she brings up cringe and how it’s okay to look back at your life and laugh at your mistakes. “Cringe is unavoidable over a lifetime…You can’t avoid it, so don’t try to. For example, I had a phase where, for the entirety 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.”
DON’T BE ASHAMED OF WANTING THINGS
Being ambitious is sometimes is often frowned upon, especially for those persistent lot who know what they want and how to get it. But in reality, there’s nothing wrong with having dreams and having a strong passion for what you believe in. “I’d like to say that I’m a big advocate for not hiding your enthusiasm for things. It seems to me that there is a false stigma around eagerness in our culture of ‘unbothered ambivalence.’ This outlook perpetuates the idea that it’s not cool to ‘want it.’ That people who don’t try hard are fundamentally more chic than people who do,” said Taylor. Instead of acting like you don’t care, don’t dull your passions. “Never be ashamed of trying. Effortlessness is a myth.”
You’re young and the world is at your fingertips. There’s nothing wrong with aiming for top bunk. “I know it can be really overwhelming figuring out who to be, and when. Who you are now and how to act in order to get where you want to go. I have some good news: it’s totally up to you. I also have some terrifying news: it’s totally up to you.”
MAKING MISTAKES IS OKAY
Taylor Swift has seen the highest of highs in her career. But she’s also experienced levels of low that seem like the depths of hell. Take it from Taylor when she says that your mistakes should be used as tools to become a better person. “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.”
No one’s perfect, not even Taylor Swift. So, as cliché as it sounds, making mistakes won’t mean the end of the world. They just mean you have room to grow. “My experience has been that my mistakes led to the best things in my life. And being embarrassed when you mess up is part of the human experience. 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. The times I was told no or wasn’t included, wasn’t chosen, didn’t win, didn’t make the cut…looking back, it really feels like those moments were as important, if not more crucial, than the moments I was told ‘yes.’”
Taylor Swift has always been one to use her personal experiences to fuel her creativity. And during her commencement address, she took the time to talk about her many stumbles, as well as what she’s learned from them. “Having the world treat my love life like a spectator sport in which I lose every single game was not a great way to date in my teens and twenties, but it taught me to protect my private life fiercely. Being publicly humiliated over and over again at a young age was excruciatingly painful, but it forced me to devalue the ridiculous notion of minute by minute, ever fluctuating social relevance and likability. Getting canceled on the internet and nearly losing my career gave me an excellent knowledge of all the types of wine.”
GET BACK AND START AGAIN
In connection to the art of learning from your mistakes, Taylor also shared to the students that those stumbles should be moments to also get back up. Making mistakes and falling is never easy. But it’s all worth it if you learn from it.
“I know the pressure of living your life through the lens of perfectionism. And I know that I’m talking to a group of perfectionists because you are here today graduating from NYU. And so this may be hard for you to hear: 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… 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.”
YOU MAKE YOUR OWN LIFE
Life is both scary and exciting. Having the possibility to do nearly anything you put your mind to, but being stopped by the reality of life. It can be cruel. But the thing about life is that it is never set in stone. It’s up to you to make your way in the life you chart, making stumbles and learning lessons along the way.
“I know it’s hard to know sometimes which path to take. There will be times in life when you need to stand up for yourself. Times when the right thing is to back down and apologize. Times when the right thing is to fight, times when the right thing is to turn and run, times to hold on with all you have and times to let go with grace. Sometimes the right thing to do is to throw out the old schools of thought in the name of progress and reform. Sometimes the right thing to do is to listen to the wisdom of those who have come before us. How will you know what the right choice is in these crucial moments? You won’t. Scary news is: you’re on your own now. Cool news is: You’re on your own now.”
Your life’s journey can get so crazy at times. But that’s the reason why they call it a journey because it’s meant to be a long process of choices that leads to ups and downs, hopefully more of the former than the latter. As Taylor says in her parting words, “We are led by our gut instincts, our intuition, our desires and fears, our scars and our dreams. And you will screw it up sometimes. So will I. And when I do, you will most likely read about on the internet. Anyway…hard things will happen to us. We will recover.”
Watch Taylor Swift’s full commencement address below.
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