Doctor of Fine Arts, Honoris Causa
New York University | Clive Davis Institute
Table of Contents
Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts
Taylor Swift’s Full NYU Commencement Speech
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.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to NYU‘s Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Bill Berkeley and all the trustees and members of the board, NYU’s President Andrew Hamilton, Provost Katherine Fleming, and the faculty and alumni here today who have made this day possible. I feel so proud to share this day with my fellow honorees Susan Hockfield and Felix Matos Rodriguez, who humble me with the ways they improve our world with their work. As for me, I’m…90% sure the main reason I’m here is because I have a song called ‘22’. And let me just say, I am elated to be here with you today as we celebrate and graduate New York University’s Class of 2022.
Not a single one of us here today has done it alone. 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. Those who told us we could do it when there was absolutely no proof of that. Someone read stories to you and taught you to dream and offered up some moral code of right and wrong for you to try and live by. Someone tried their best to explain every concept in this insanely complex world to the child that was you, as you asked a bazillion questions like ‘how does the moon work’ and ‘why can we eat salad but not grass’. And maybe they didn’t do it perfectly. No one ever can. Maybe they aren’t with us anymore, and in that case I hope you’ll remember them today. If they are here in this stadium, 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.
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.
As a kid, I always thought I would go away to college, imagining the posters I’d hang on the wall of my freshmen dorm. I even set the ending of my music video for my song “Love Story” at my fantasy imaginary college, where I meet a male model reading a book on the grass and with one single glance, we realize we had been in love in our past lives. Which is exactly what you guys all experienced at some point in the last 4 years, right?
So as a rule, I try not to give anyone unsolicited advice unless they ask for it. I’ll go into this more later. I guess I have been officially solicited in this situation, to impart whatever wisdom I might have and tell you the things that helped me in my life so far. Please bear in mind that I, in no way, feel qualified to tell you what to do. You’ve worked and struggled and sacrificed and studied and dreamed your way here today and so, you know what you’re doing. You’ll do things differently than I did them and for different reasons.
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.
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.
I started writing songs when I was twelve and since then, it’s been the compass guiding my life, and in turn, my life guided my writing. Everything I do is just an extension of my writing, whether it’s directing videos or a short film, creating the visuals for a tour, or standing on stage performing. Everything is connected by my love of the craft, the thrill of working through ideas and narrowing them down and polishing it all up in the end. Editing. Waking up in the middle of the night and throwing out the old idea because you just thought of a newer, better one. A plot device that ties the whole thing together. There’s a reason they call it a hook. Sometimes a string of words just ensnares me and I can’t focus on anything until it’s been recorded or written down.
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. 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’.
Scary news is: You’re on your own now.
Cool news is: You’re on your own now.
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.
I hope you know how proud I am to share this day with you. We’re doing this together. So let’s just keep dancing like we’re…
…The class of 22.
Taylor Swift Course
The course description reads in part, “This course proposes to deconstruct both the appeal and aversions to Taylor Swift through close readings of her music and public discourse as it relates to her own growth as an artist and a celebrity. Through readings, lectures and more, the class delves into analyses of the culture and politics of teen girlhood in pop music, fandom, media studies, whiteness and power as it relates to her image and the images of those who have both preceded and succeeded her. We’ll also consider topics like copyright and ownership, American nationalism and the ongoing impact of social media on the pop music industry.
- Students will develop an understanding and appreciation for Taylor Swift as a creative music entrepreneur;
- Students will learn to deconstruct the way her creativity and songwriting have made her a durable presence in a quickly evolving music industry;
- Students will learn about the legacy of pop and country songwriters that have influenced Swift as well as the discourses around “prodigies” in pop music history;
- Students will gain an understanding of how discourses of youth and girlhood are often exploited in the media and music industries;
- Students will learn about the politics of race in contemporary popular music, and to interrogate whiteness as it relates to Swift’s politics, songwriting, worldview and interactions with the wider cultural world around her;
- Students will develop greater sophistication in their artistic appreciation, critical thinking, research and writing skills.