Here’s what Taylor Swift said during her NYU graduation speech

Singer-songwriter Taylor Swift spoke about hard work, the importance of learning from mistakes, and her song “22” at the class of 2022 commencement exercises.

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Manasa Gudavalli

Taylor Swift hugs NYU president Andy Hamilton. (Staff Photo by Manasa Gudavalli)

Rachel Fadem, Features Editor

Taylor Swift spoke at NYU’s 188th commencement ceremony after receiving an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree on May 18. She delivered a speech to the class of 2022 at the Wednesday morning ceremony on behalf of the honorary doctorate recipients: Massachusetts Institute of Technology president Susan Hockfield, City University of New York chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez and herself.

“Last time I was in a stadium this size, I was dancing in heels and wearing a glittery leotard,” Swift said at the beginning of her speech.“ This outfit is much more comfortable.”

After thanking NYU administrators, Swift said she was proud to be celebrated alongside her fellow honorary degree recipients and that they humble her with the work they do to improve the world.

“I’m 90% sure that the reason I’m here is because I have a song called ‘22,’” Swift 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.”

— Taylor Swift

Jason King, the chair of the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music of the Tisch School of the Arts, presented Swift with her degree. NYU president Andrew Hamilton spoke about Swift’s accomplishments prior to her speech. 

“You are a role model across the world for your unprecedented talent, your fierce advocacy for protection of those facing discrimination, and your commitment to speaking out forcefully, eloquently and effectively on behalf of all artists,” Hamilton said.

Swift thanked NYU for giving her the opportunity to be a doctor — at least on paper.

“Not the type of doctor you would want around in the case of an emergency,” she said. “Unless your specific emergency was that you desperately needed to hear a song with a catchy hook and an intensely cathartic bridge section.”

The singer and producer emphasized that NYU students could not have accomplished what they have without support from friends and family. She asked students to express their gratitude for those who have helped them and forgive those who have made mistakes along the way.

“We are each a patchwork quilt of those who have loved us,” Swift said. “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. Those who told us we could do it when there was absolutely no proof of that.”

Reflecting on her own education, Swift noted that she never had a normal college experience, but that she drew upon the traditional university experience for some of her music. She then acknowledged that NYU’s class of 2022 also did not have a typical college experience either due to COVID-19.

Although Swift said she tries not to give unsolicited advice, she considered her commencement address an exception.

Part of growing up and moving into new chapters of your life is about catch and release,” she said. “Decide what is yours to hold and let the rest go… You get to pick what your life has time and room for.”

The singer encouraged students to embrace one part of life she said will happen to everyone — cringe.

“Learn to live alongside cringe,” she said. “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.”

Swift said the mistakes she has made have taught her lessons and led to some of her favorite experiences in life. She encouraged the class of 2022 to take risks and be resilient in the face of failure.

“Being embarrassed when you mess up is part of the human experience,” she said. “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.”

Swift said that even though the class of 2022 did not get everything they wished for during their time at NYU, she wanted to encourage them to embrace the work they have accomplished.

“You should be very proud of what you’ve done with it,” Swift said. “Today you leave New York University and then you go out into the world searching for what’s next. And so will I.”

Contact Rachel Fadem at [email protected]