Singer Taylor Swift was made an honorary doctor at her old school New York University last week, and in her commencement speech for the graduating class of 2022 gave some heartfelt advice, including that we should learn to embrace the cringeworthy moments from our past, as she has.
Throughout a career that has crossed genre lines and shifted direction numerous times, Taylor has amassed 17 UK Top 10 hits, although it may come as a surprise she’s only topped the Official Singles Chart once, with 2017’s Look What You Made Me Do. She has recently had legal issues with former management, and re-recorded her early albums in order to win back ownership of the recordings.
At one point in her commencement speech, she said: “I know I sound like a consummate optimist, but I’m really not. I lose perspective all the time. Sometimes everything just feels completely pointless. 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, 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.”
The speech, which had its serious moments, started on a lighter note, with Swift saying “Last time I was in a stadium this size, I was dancing in heels and wearing a glittery leotard. This outfit is much more comfortable.”
She gave thanks to her family for their support during her career, saying: “I know that words are supposed to be my ‘thing’, but I will never be able to find the words to thank my mom and my dad, and my brother, Austin, for the sacrifices they made every day so that I could go from singing in coffee houses to standing up here with you all today because no words would ever be enough. To all the incredible parents, family members, mentors, teachers, allies, friends and loved ones here today who have supported these students in their pursuit of educational enrichment, let me say to you now: Welcome to New York. It’s been waiting for you.”
Taylor continued: “I’d like to thank NYU for making me technically, on paper at least, a doctor. Not the type of doctor you would want around in the 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.”
“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. Then I went out on the road on a radio tour, which sounds incredibly glamorous but in reality it consisted 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.”
Talking about her unconventional upbringing and education, she admitted: “As a rule, I try not to give anyone unsolicited advice unless they ask for it…. So I won’t tell you what to do because no one likes that. I will, however, 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.
“The first of which is: 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.
“Secondly: 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.’ I promise you, you’re probably doing or wearing something right now that you will look back on later and find revolting and hilarious.”
On the pressure of being seem as a role model, Taylor said: “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. 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.”
Taylor concluded: “I leave you with this: 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. As long as we are fortunate enough to be breathing, we will breathe in, breathe through, breathe deep, breathe out. And I’m a doctor now, so I know how breathing works.”