Taylor Swift has now become Dr. Taylor Alison Swift. On Wednesday, in New York’s Yankee Stadium, she received an honorary doctorate (Doctor of Fine Arts honoris causa) from New York University, making her commencement speaker debut to the school’s 2022 graduating class.
Six years after telling the world she wanted to receive an honorary doctorate “because Ed Sheeran has one,” the 32-year old spoke for just over 25 minutes, telling the stadium-filled crowd about her youth, her schooling experience, and the best life lessons she has come to value.
The multiple Grammy winner, who never attended college, began her speech by reminding the graduating students the importance of recognising community and family.
“Not a single one of us here today has done it alone,” she said. “We are each a patchwork quilt of those who have loved us, those who have believed in our futures, those who showed us empathy and kindness or told us the truth even when it wasn’t easy to hear.”
“I hope you’ll find your own way to express your gratitude for all the steps and missteps that have led us to this common destination.”
She praised her parents, and the university, NYU, before describing her education trajectory.
“I never got to have the normal college experience, per se. I went to public high school until tenth grade and finished my education doing homeschool work on the floors of airport terminals.”
Swift acknowledged she does not to give unsolicited advice unless asked for it, reasoning that she had endured “years of unsolicited advice” from adults.
“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,” she explained.
Swift said she was ”being fed the message…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 centred 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,” she declared. “My experience has been that my mistakes led to the best things in my life.”
“I will give you some life hacks I wish I knew when I was starting out my dreams of a career, and navigating life, love, pressure, choices, shame, hope and friendship.”
Here are Swift’s short but extraordinary list of advice:
1. “Be discerning”
“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. You can’t carry all things, all grudges, all updates on your ex, all enviable promotions your school bully got at the hedge fund his uncle started.”
“Decide what is yours to hold and let the rest go. Oftentimes the good things in your life are lighter anyway, so there’s more room for them. One toxic relationship can outweigh so many wonderful, simple joys. You get to pick what your life has time and room for. Be discerning.”
2. Embrace the 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.’”
“I promise you, you’re probably doing or wearing something right now that you will look back on later and find revolting and hilarious. 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.”
3. Effortlessness is a myth
“ 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. And I wouldn’t know because I have been a lot of things but I’ve never been an expert on ‘chic.’ But I’m the one who’s up here so you have to listen to me when I say this: 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.”
4. Don’t be afraid of mistakes
“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.’”
“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.”
“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.”
“These mistakes will cause you to lose things. A lot of the time, when we lose things, we gain things too.”
Swift concluded her speech by encouraging the graduating students to see things in a positive light.
“Scary news is: You’re on your own now. Cool news is: You’re on your own now.”
“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. We will learn from it. We will grow more resilient because of it.”
Image: Manasa Gudavalli @manasagudavalli, WSN