5 key takeaways from Dr Taylor Swift’s brilliant NYU graduation speech

Taylor Swift has just been awarded an honorary degree from New York University – and in a powerful commencement speech, the singer reflected on many life lessons about love, pressure, choices, shame, hope and friendship.

She’s one of the most prolific and celebrated artists of her generation, but when singer-songwriter Taylor Swift stepped on stage at New York University on Wednesday 18 May, she wasn’t there to belt out one of her chart-topping hits.

Instead, she was there to receive an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree and deliver a commencement address to the school’s graduating class of 2022. And the newly appointed doctor, who has inspired and entertained millions with her music, did not disappoint when she took the mic.

In a funny, powerful and inspiring 23-minute speech, Swift reflected on the many life lessons she has accrued throughout a career in the public sphere, complete with a generous sprinkling of song references (“let’s just keep dancing like we’re the class of 22”). Delving into topics such as perfectionism, loneliness, criticism, mistakes and the importance of having a passion for your craft, Swift talked at length about the things that have helped her so far in her life. Let’s take a look at the key takeaways:

Let things go

Taylor Swift delivering the New York University 2022 commencement address

Swift began her speech by telling the crowd to be discerning in the things they choose to focus their energy on.

“Life can be heavy, especially if you try to carry it all at once,” she explained.

“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, so be discerning.”

Learn to live with your cringe

“Learn to live alongside cringe,” Swift told the crowd in one light-hearted moment. “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.

“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.”

Be enthusiastic

Taylor Swift delivering the New York University 2022 commencement address

Swift said that while she was on the subject of “talking about things that make us squirm but really shouldn’t”, she wanted to make it known that she’s “a big advocate for not hiding your enthusiasm for things”.

“It seems to me that there is a false stigma around eagerness in our culture of ‘unbothered ambivalence’,” she continued. “This outlook perpetuates the idea that it’s not cool to ‘want it. .That people who don’t try hard are fundamentally more chic than people who do. And I wouldn’t know because I have been a lot of things but I’ve never been an expert on ‘chic’. 

“But I’m the one who’s up here so you have to listen to me when I say this: never be ashamed of trying. Effortlessness is a myth. The people who wanted it the least were the ones I wanted to date and be friends with in high school. The people who want it most are the people I now hire to work for my company.”

Know that criticism doesn’t define you

Taylor Swift on stage at the New York University 2022 commencement address

Taylor then advised the graduates to embrace the obstacles that will inevitably appear throughout their life, explaining that her mistakes have “led to the best things in my life”.

“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 afterwards – 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 not more crucial than the moments I was told ‘yes’.”

“Having journalists write in-depth, oftentimes critical, pieces about who they perceive me to be made me feel like I was living in some weird simulation, but it also made me look inward to learn about who I actually am,” she said.

“Having the world treat my love life like a spectator sport in which I lose every single game was not a great way to date in my teens and 20s, but it taught me to protect my private life fiercely.

“Being publicly humiliated over and over again at a young age was excruciatingly painful, but it forced me to devalue the ridiculous notion of minute-by-minute, ever-fluctuating social relevance and likability.

“Getting cancelled on the internet and nearly losing my career gave me an excellent knowledge of all the types of wine.”

Your mistakes don’t define you

Taylor Swift delivering the New York University 2022 commencement address

Taylor concluded her speech by offering some final words of encouragement to the graduates about life choices.

“How will you know what the right choice is in these crucial moments?” she asked the crowd. “You won’t.”

“The scary news is that you’re on your own now. But the cool news is that 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 it on the internet.

“Hard things will happen to us. We will recover, we will learn from it, we will grow more resilient from it.

“And 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.”

Watch the whole speech below:

Images: Getty

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