Taylor Swift, Judith Heumann to speak at NYU graduation

Graduates of NYU’s classes of 2020, 2021 and 2022 will be honored at a ceremony at Yankee Stadium on May 18.


Singer-songwriter Taylor Swift and disability rights activist Judith Heumann will be the commencement speakers for the 188th and 189th annual graduation ceremonies, with Swift addressing the graduating class of 2022 and Heumann those of 2020 and 2021. (Photo by Glenn Francis, via Wikimedia Commons, Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Maria Freyre, Senior Staff Writer

Singer-songwriter Taylor Swift and disability rights activist Judith Heumann were selected as commencement speakers for NYU’s 188th and 189th graduation ceremonies. A ceremony for the class of 2022 and a combined ceremony for the classes of 2020 and 2021 will take place at Yankee Stadium on May 18. 

Swift, who will receive an honorary doctorate degree in fine arts from NYU, will address the class of 2022 at 11 a.m. Heumann — an advocate for disability rights legislation, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act — will be awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters. She will address the 2020 and 2021 graduating classes — whose ceremonies were postponed due to the pandemic — at 6 p.m.

“I am deeply appreciative of NYU bestowing an honorary doctorate upon me,” Heumann wrote to WSN. “Over the decades, NYU has made many important changes in the advancement of Disability rights in its academics. I am particularly proud of the fact that my dear friend, Ali Stroker, graduated from NYU and was the first wheelchair user to receive a Tony award for her performance in ‘Oklahoma.’”

Harvard University historian Jill Lepore, Massachusetts Institute of Technology neuroscientist Susan Hockfield, Smithsonian Institution secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III and City University of New York chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodriguez will also receive honorary doctorates at the ceremonies. Honorary degrees are traditionally awarded to individuals who demonstrate NYU’s ideals through exceptional achievements and leadership.

“We’re tremendously proud of the six honorary degree recipients who have agreed to accept this honor and take part in our historic ‘doubleheader’ commencements this year,” NYU spokesperson Lynne Brown wrote in a statement to WSN. “They collectively represent excellence in music, social justice advocacy, the advancement of interracial understanding, neuroscience, education, and American letters.”

CAS senior and longtime Swift fan Jam Dela Fuente said that Swift’s music has great significance in his life. He was ecstatic when he found out that she would be speaking at his graduation. 

“I listened to her music during the pandemic, and it got me through a lot of stuff alone in quarantine,” Dela Fuente said. “She is re-recording her old albums and releasing them as her own, so the message is about how to make your life and your work your own and making sure that no one else can take that away from you. That’s something really important for the class of 2022 to take away with them as they graduate from NYU.”

CAS senior Anna Cuciurean-Zapan said she fell to her knees when she heard that Swift, of whom she has been a fan for eight years, would be present at one of the most important days of her life. She hopes that Swift performs or makes a reference to her song “22” to celebrate the class of 2022. 

“I was already going to be crying at graduation,” she said. “And now that my idol is there, I’m going to be dry heaving and sobbing … She’s so eloquent with her words, so I know whatever she says, I’m gonna take it to heart real quick.”

According to Brown, the process of choosing commencement speakers consists of an official nomination in writing by a member of the NYU community followed by staff deliberation. The names are then submitted for approval to the University Senate and the board of trustees. The Academic Affairs Committee of the University Senate participated in reviewing the nominations for commencement speakers.

Mehrin Ali, Student Government Assembly chair and a CAS senior, said that Swift is a perfect representation of the class of 2022. She said her class will impact the world after graduation like Swift has during her career.

“Like the Class of 2022, Taylor Swift is resilient and has overcome hardships in the industry as she battled sexism for her artistic freedom,” Ali wrote to WSN on behalf of the student government. “We admire Miss Swift’s ability to advocate for herself and her community, whether that is pushing the younger generation to register to vote or being an ally to the LGBTQ+ community.” 

The selection of Swift as a speaker comes after a spring 2022 course about the singer was introduced at NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. The class is taught by Rolling Stone senior writer and Tisch adjunct instructor Brittany Spanos, who delves into Swift’s growth as an artist and creative entrepreneur.

Tysan Holloman, a Liberal Studies class of 2021 graduate, was disappointed by NYU’s choice to separate the two speakers. She noted how heavily the class of 2022’s ceremony has been promoted in the media, and said that university communication regarding graduation ceremonies for the class of 2020 and class of 2021 left many alumni confused. 

“To me and some of my other friends I’ve talked to, it feels just like another kind of symptom of being the forgotten classes that didn’t get to have their graduations because of COVID-19,” Holloman said.

Contact Maria Freyre at [email protected].