NYU ’20, ’21, ’22 grads honored at double-header commencement 

Tens of thousands of NYU graduates were honored at two graduation ceremonies at Yankee Stadium on May 18, which featured singer-songwriter Taylor Swift and disability rights activist Judith Heumann as speakers.

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Sam Tu

NYU graduates and guests fill the stands at Yankee Stadium during the university’s commencement ceremony for the class of 2022 on May 18. (Staff Photo by Sam Tu)

Abby Wilson, News Editor

NYU’s 188th and 189th commencement ceremonies honored the classes of 2022, 2021 and 2020 at Yankee Stadium on May 18. Tens of thousands of undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and master’s students were celebrated during NYU’s first in-person graduation ceremonies since 2019.

Both ceremonies began with faculty and platform party processions, and a march with each of the university’s school banners in the order of their respective founding dates. Tisch graduate Naima Alakham and Steinhardt graduate Bern Tan sang the national anthem for the morning and evening ceremonies, respectively.

NYU provost Katherine Fleming gave the opening speech and Lisa Coleman, the senior vice president for the Office of Global Inclusion, Diversity and Strategic Innovation, delivered a land and ancestral acknowledgement. 

A student representative from each school accepted a symbolic degree from each school during the ceremonies. The commencements concluded with the passing of the torch, in which a senior faculty member hands a torch to the youngest baccalaureate degree candidate. Hamilton then conferred the degrees to student representatives on behalf of each school.

“I am immensely proud of what you will take from what you have learned at NYU and how you will apply it as you find your purpose in the world,” university president Andrew Hamilton said in his address to the class of 2022. “Wherever your career and life lead you, you have proven you can make your own path where there was not one. And you will continue to do so as you travel along your unique journeys.”

 

Class of 2022

Tisch graduate Rodney Anderson addressed the class of 2022 as a student speaker during the morning ceremony. He spoke about his experience being raised in Little Rock, Arkansas, and how he has embraced his Black and queer identity during his time at NYU.

“Graduating can feel like the most successful but also terrifying experience of your life,” he said. “But you have to remember that you have found a village within NYU that will not let you fail… We made it.”

Singer-songwriter Taylor Swift then delivered her commencement speech after she received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree. She discussed the importance of staying resilient, embracing life’s cringey moments and learning lessons from her mistakes.

I’d like to thank NYU for making me technically, on paper at least, a doctor,” Swift said. “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.”

[Read more: Here’s what Taylor Swift said during her NYU graduation speech]

Former Massachusetts Institute of Technology president Susan Hockfield and City University of New York chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez were also presented with honorary degrees during the morning ceremony. 

Michael Richards, a Stern graduate, attended the ceremony with his friend Michael Manuel Jr., who he went to high school with in Jersey City, New Jersey.

“This is just surreal,” Richards said. “It’s insane seeing everyone in purple and how many people are graduating with you. It’s really cool to see everyone come together.”

CAS graduate Nasreen Akhter said she made some of her best friends at NYU and that she has spent a lot of time with them before many of them leave the city after graduation. She was excited to spend the day celebrating the class of 2022’s accomplishments at the stadium.

“This is what I was working for and all that hard work finally feels validated,” she said. “It was difficult at times, and it’s very competitive and very rigorous, but at the end, it feels worth it.”

 

Classes of 2020 and 2021

Disability rights activist Judith Heumann addressed the classes of 2020 and 2021 during the evening ceremony after being presented with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. She talked about her recent accomplishments, including publishing her memoir, “Being Heumann,” and being featured in the documentary “Crip Camp.” She encouraged the graduating classes to continue to fight for a more equitable world.

“The last few years have been hard, and at times heartbreaking — no question about it,” Heumann said. “But like the finest of swords — or chocolates if you prefer — the tempering you’ve experienced in the forge of the pandemic has made you stronger, even when you might not always feel that way. That’s why I am so excited about the world you are going to rebuild and are already shaping with your creativity, your power and your diverse voices.”

[Read more: Judith Heumann to ’20, ’21 NYU grads: ‘Disability is difference. It is not deficiency.’]

During the ceremony, Smithsonian Institution secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III and Harvard professor and journalist Jill Lepore received Doctors of Humane Letters. Two student speakers, Stern 2020 graduate Amy Dong and LS 2021 graduate Diya Radhakrishna, addressed each of their respective classes. 

Dong spoke about her two near-death experiences that she has endured over the past few years. She urged the crowd to make the most of every moment.

“I bet every single one of us sitting here or standing here has experienced loss or grief or sacrifice in some way over the last few years,” Dong said. “In spite of it all, we are here today with our friends and family and we are very much alive. And if that isn’t the definition of resilience, I don’t know what is.”

Jaime Valdez, who graduated from Steinhardt in 2020 and now works from home in Hawaii. She returned to New York for the ceremony and said she was excited to see old friends.

“It’s crazy being back because I haven’t been here for like two years,” Valdez said. “Seeing everything again and going back to who I was two years ago feels very weird, but it’s really exciting and fun.”

Contact Abby Wilson at [email protected]