The 32-year-old singer stood onstage at New York’s Yankee Stadium and spoke to the graduating classes of 2020, 2021 and 2022. It marked the school's first in-person ceremony since the pandemic began. Swift began her speech by thanking the other honorees who are improving the world with their work, while noting that she simply earned her spot because of her music.
"As for me, I’m…90 percent sure the main reason I’m here is because I have a song called ‘22,'" she joked. "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."
Swift wasn't afraid to poke fun at herself.
"I’d like to thank NYU for making me technically, on paper at least, a doctor," she quipped. "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."
The GRAMMY-winning musician spoke about not attending college, though it was always her dream to do so, noting that she finished attending regular high school in 10th grade and completed her education through home school while her career took off. However, she was able to make the dream a reality by creating the experience she wanted in her memorable music video for "Love Story."
"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," she shared. 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?"
Swift went on to offer the graduates "life hacks," which included learning when to let things go.
"Life can be heavy, especially if you try to carry it all at once," she said. "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."
Swift also stressed that she never wanted to hold back her "enthusiasm" for things, and that experiencing embarrassing moments in life are inevitable.
"Learn to live alongside cringe," she said. "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," she continued. "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."
On a more serious note, the "Shake it Off" singer spoke about the loneliness she's experienced and the unsolicited advice that came with being a young female in the music industry "living life through the lens of perfectionism." The singer-songwriter referenced the events in her career that inspired her to stop trying to be "likable."
"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 twenties, 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," she said. "Getting canceled on the internet and nearly losing my career gave me an excellent knowledge of all the types of wine."
Getting emotional, Swift spoke to the graduates about the value of making mistakes and learning from losing out on certain things.
"My experience has been that my mistakes led to the best things in my life," she shared. "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.'"
"In your life, you will inevitably misspeak, trust the wrong people, underreact, 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," she continued. "And I’m not gonna lie, these mistakes will cause you to lose things. I’m trying to tell you that losing things doesn’t just mean losing. A lot of the time, when we lose things, we gain things too."
The superstar ended her speech with a message about breathing through it all. "I leave you with this," she said. "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. 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."
She concluded, "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."
While this was an incredibly momentous moment in Taylor's life, it was also remarkable for the NYU students.
A source tells ET, "Taylor was so sweet and interacting with students earlier in the day. She didn't act like she was a celebrity and was genuinely interested in talking to the students, getting to know them, and hearing about their experiences. It was a huge honor for her overall. She was really surprised when she was asked to make the commencement speech. New York was her true home for a long time, so it felt like a full-circle moment for her."
Prior to taking the stage, Swift celebrated the occasion on Instagram, posting a picture of her father capturing the moment, wearing her first cap and gown. “Wearing a cap and gown for the very first time - see you soon NYU 🥺🥰🗽,” the “All Too Well” singer wrote.