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Lessons I’m taking home from Dr. Taylor Swift’s NYU speech

Lessons I’m taking home from Dr. Taylor Swift’s NYU speech

As short-attention-span kids, finishing a lecture can be an extreme sport. But with singer-songwriter-musician-producer-director Taylor Swift’s recent speech at the Yankee Stadium, writing reaction papers no one asked for can be a breeze. 

Clad in a purple toga, the music industry star—who was given an honorary doctorate in fine arts—addressed the graduating batch of New York University on Wednesday, May 18 (Thursday in the Philippines). Among the graduates were Jillian Robredo, who finished with a double degree in math and economics. Proud momma Vice President Leni Robredo was there to witness it all, of course. (Prior to the event, she said she and the “22” singer wouldn’t meet, but that it would be a “real treat” to have Swift deliver the commencement speech.)

With its mix of moderate humor, existentialism, Real Talk, and toxic positivity-proof wisdom through the years, Swift’s speech had us taking down major takeaways to commit to memory. Here are our five favorite lessons that prove words really are her “thing.”


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Our imperfect selves are a sum of different imperfect people

Contrary to how the usual format of speeches go, Taylor highlighted a sense of gratefulness for other people (aside from the individual self) right off the bat, instead of mentioning it at a much later part. “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,” she said. 

Each of us are built by pieces of people we met and bonded with, whether they did their job “successfully” or not so much. In hyperspecific examples, she explained, “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.” 

Finishing school may induce pressure when it comes to pursuing individual journeys, and it’s a good reminder that despite people parting ways, the things we impart to each other—no matter how mundane or miniscule—not only stay, but also prompt us to do something. 

There’s no advice tailor-made for everyone

This may not be a very apparent “lesson” in the text per se, but it can be unearthed through her multiple disclaimers:

“So as a rule, I try not to give anyone unsolicited advice unless they ask for it.”

“I said to you earlier that I don’t ever offer advice unless someone asks me for it, and now I’ll tell you why: As a person who started my very public career at the age of 15, it came with a price. And that price was years of unsolicited advice… This advice often presented itself as thinly veiled warnings.”

“Please bear in mind that I, in no way, feel qualified to tell you what to do.”

“How do I give advice to this many people about their life choices? I won’t.”

As young folks, we’re at a crucial stage of being able to hear different voices—but who do we listen to? Life after graduation means losing a map and being suddenly ordered to navigate for the first time. It’s easy to get drowned in shareable Facebook quotes, unsolicited tips from privileged celebrities, your relative’s bi-monthly remarks, or Reddit threads. While we could all use some mentorship along the way, it’s still up to us to make the final decision. 

Make peace with cringe

As one of the recent voices of the internet’s meme territory says, “I am cringe but I am free.” It’s easier said than done, but luckily, Taylor agrees with this. 

“Learn to live alongside cringe. 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,’” she quips, further reminding us that we will always feel uncomfortable with things we did in the past.

But if we let this future possibility of cringe take over our present, we might miss the all the fun we could get. Want to do that cheesy TikTok? Thinking of sporting that eccentric hairdo? Hoping to finally start that life-changing essay? Even if these might not age well in our POVs someday, at least they were made at a time we wanted to do them. Besides, getting cringe over something years back is a sign of growth. 

Even trends come and go—and some of them we’re even nostalgic with. 

Don’t let enthusiasm be taken away from you

With a long history of getting hate and losses, Taylor might not be the person you’d expect to tell you to stand up again after a humiliating fall. With multiple harsh experiences, it’s easier to offer a cautionary (and unintentionally paranoia-inducing) tale, right? 

But you can still count on her for motivation. To quote, “I’d like to say that I’m 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.’ This outlook perpetuates the idea that it’s not cool to ‘want it.’”

Sometimes, society paints persistent people as “trying too hard,” as if it’s a mortal sin. We romanticize a perfectly ironed-out story, where victories received the first try are the only victories well-deserved. Going for a second (or fourth, or twelfth) shot tends to be mocked, whether it’s going on an audition or trying to earn a title. But Taylor reminds us that we owe it to our passionate ourselves to try again. “Effortlessness is a myth,” she adds.

Perfection doesn’t exist

In connection with not always getting instant wins, Taylor also doles out a lesson on the pressure of perfection. 

“And so this may be hard for you to hear: In your life, you will inevitably misspeak, trust the wrong people, under-react, overreact, hurt the people who didn’t deserve it, overthink, not think at all, self-sabotage, create a reality where only your experience exists, ruin perfectly good moments for yourself and others, deny any wrongdoing, not take the steps to make it right, feel very guilty, let the guilt eat at you, hit rock bottom, finally address the pain you caused, try to do better next time, rinse, repeat.”

In the age of intense surveillance and cancel culture, it’s easy to forget we’re all humans bound to make mistakes. Even Taylor isn’t exempted from this—but the 32-year-old superstar assures we’ll always be redirected.

“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.”

I don’t know about you, but I felt like I was part of the Class of ’22. 

Read more:

What are your top Taylor Swift songs? This quiz will let you know 

Here’s a look at the Taylor Swift college course’s goals and lessons 

This quarantine, I finally accepted that I’m a Swiftie 

Photo from Getty Images via AFP



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