Taylor Swift has had her eye on an honorary degree since her longtime friend and collaborator Ed Sheeran got one in 2015. On Wednesday (May 18), Swift realized her dream and was bestowed an honorary doctorate of fine arts from New York University at the school’s commencement at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.
“Last time I was in a stadium this size, I was dancing in heels and wearing a glittery leotard,” Swift said, donning a purple doctoral gown and cap with her signature red lip, addressing a roaring crowd of almost 3,000 NYU students who had been anticipating the pop star’s appearance since it was announced in March. “This outfit is much more comfortable.”
The pop star was selected as the speaker for NYU’s class of 2022 for her barrier-breaking accomplishments in music, her fearless challenge of industry stereotypes and her philanthropy and activism. Her cameo at the school’s first in-person commencement since the start of COVID-19 prompted illicit trading of tickets between graduating students (each entitled to two guest tickets) and non-student fans who sought the passes, despite the university’s ban on ticket reselling and threats to rescind degrees from rule breakers.
“I’d like to thank NYU for making me technically, on paper at least, a doctor,” she said. “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.”
Doctor jokes and lyric references aside, the singer also shared her life wisdom with the graduates. Swift, who never had a real college experience, recalled finishing high school “on the floors of airport terminals” as she went on radio tours and dreaming about a fairy tale-like collegiate rendezvous, which inspired her “Love Story” music video.
Reflecting on her career, Swift’s speech resonated with the graduating class, who came of age around the same time she rose to fame. Earlier this year, NYU’s Clive Davis Institute launched a course on the 32-year-old singer, which was so sought-after among the students that it drew a long waitlist. The course was taught by Rolling Stone senior writer Brittany Spanos.
NYU student Anna Cuciurean-Zapan, 21, who graduated today with a degree in journalism and social and cultural analysis, has been a Swiftie for years. She found the part of Swift’s speech about the pressure of perfectionism particularly inspiring, and appreciated that she acknowledged the achievements of the scholars receiving honorary degrees along with her, including Susan Hockfield, MIT’s first female president, and Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, the first person of color and Latino to lead the City University of New York.
“She did address the fact, like, ‘my life is very abnormal,” said Cuciurean-Zapan, whose mother and sister were also excited for her idol to be present at her graduation ceremony. “She can still relate her stories about first getting into the music business. Everyone can relate to just trying your hardest to get where you want to be.”
While the nomination process for honorary degree recipients is confidential, “the awarding of honorary degrees is a distinction that NYU takes very seriously,” John Beckman, the university’s chief spokesperson, told The New York Times. “We have an extensive selection process that begins with an official nomination in writing by a member of the NYU community, followed by a vetting process by staff and then review and approval by the university senate, and ultimately by the board of trustees.”
In 2014, NYU honored Aretha Franklin with a doctorate of fine arts. In 2011, Clive Davis, the Sony Music mogul and namesake of NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, received an honorary degree from the school along with former President Bill Clinton.
You can read the full transcript of Swift’s speech here.