Stanford Swifties on Taylor Swift’s viral commencement speech: growth, gratitude and embracing the ‘cringe’

July 31, 2022, 10:19 p.m.

Introducing Dr. Taylor Swift: After being awarded an honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from New York University this May, the singer, songwriter, producer, actress and businesswoman can now add doctor to her resume. But as she later joked in her commencement speech to her fellow NYU graduates: “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.” 

Swift delivered her viral speech on May 18 after being awarded her honorary degree by Jason King, chair of the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. Standing in her signature red lipstick and honorary robe, Swift began with a simple introduction, reminiscing about how she was “dancing in heels and wearing a glittery leotard” the last time she was up on a stadium stage. 

Although Swift’s outfit stole the show, the personal meaning behind her NYU speech immediately resonated with many college students, including those within the Stanford community. 

“One of the things I like most about Taylor is how relatable she is. She takes her life experiences and is able to make something really special out of it,” said Yared Avalos ’25. “Even though it’s really personal to her, it’s still relatable to so many other people.” 

For many Stanford Swifties, hearing this speech also sparked overwhelming feelings of excitement. Malia Mendez ’22 said that the first thing she did after listening to the speech was to “tweet in all caps the ‘Never be ashamed of trying. Effortlessness is a myth’ quote from Swift’s speech.” Mendez is a former editor for The Daily.

Stanford students also saw connections to Swift’s music in her speech. “I thought of ‘folklore’ when she started talking about how we’re a lot of different people at a lot of different times,” Avalos said, referring to Swift’s Grammy-winning album. “The album is just a bunch of different stories coming from her head, but she’s saying that everyone has their own stories.” 

After expressing gratitude to her parents, NYU’s faculty and the graduates, Swift emphasized the importance of “catch and release”: letting go of the unnecessary worries and appreciating all the little things in life. For Lillian Towe ’24, this portion of the speech connected with her college experience.

“When I was packing, I really struggled with what baggage comes with me and what stays behind — both literally and figuratively,” she said. “It’s a metaphor of these ties I had and what I needed to let go, to be my own person on campus.”

Swift continued, encouraging listeners to “live alongside 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,” she said. “You can’t avoid it, so don’t try to.” 

Swift’s encouragement to embrace the cringe reminded Avalos of one of Stanford’s annual commencement traditions, the “Wacky Walk”. Every year, graduates walk into Stanford Stadium in outlandish costumes, often coordinating with friends or constructing elaborate homemade designs. 

“Everyone else in the country might think it’s cringe, but we all embrace it,” Avalos said. 

Acknowledging the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic had on the graduating class’s years in college, Swift added that, “I imagine the idea of a normal college experience was all you wanted too. But in this case, you and I both learned that you don’t always get all the things in the bag that you selected from the menu in the delivery service that is life.”

From being a target for online bullying to record label rejections, Swift reflected on her own personal drawbacks as well. “Hard things will happen to us. We will recover. We will learn from it,” Swift said. “We will grow more resilient because of it.” 

This, perhaps, was the most important lesson from the pop star’s speech to many listeners across the country. “Taylor has taught me how to be proud of what I’ve managed to do given these circumstances,” Mendez said. “It has trained me to allot myself with more grace. There’s so much to be proud of ourselves for just surviving and doing our best.”

Laurie Chow is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily’s Summer Journalism Workshop. Contact them at workshop 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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