Taylor Swift’s commencement speech on 19 May (18 May Eastern time) before the class of 2022 of New York University brings to mind Steve Jobs’ own address to the graduates of Stanford University in 2005.
Jobs looked back on his own life experience to inspire his young audience, talking about “connecting the dots”: ‘You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
Jobs said the failures he went through may have been painful, but doing what he loves helped him bounce back on top. He ended his talk by quoting a message from a publication’s last issue: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.”
Taylor’s speech likewise dared her audience to work hard on hitting one’s goal:
“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.”
She discussed her work and its process, and also mentioned the connection of everything she does:
“I started writing songs when I was 12 and since then, it’s been the compass guiding my life, and in turn, my life guided my writing. Everything I do is just an extension of my writing, whether it’s directing videos or a short film, creating the visuals for a tour, or standing on stage performing. Everything is connected by my love of the craft, the thrill of working through ideas and narrowing them down and polishing it all up in the end.
“Editing. Waking up in the middle of the night and throwing out the old idea because you just thought of a newer, better one. A plot device that ties the whole thing together. There’s a reason they call it a hook. Sometimes a string of words just ensnares me and I can’t focus on anything until it’s been recorded or written down.”
She talked about mistakes and their upside:
“I became a young adult while being fed the message that if I didn’t make any mistakes, all the children of America would grow up to be perfect angels. However, if I did slip up, the entire earth would fall off its axis and it would be entirely my fault and I would go to pop star jail forever and ever. It was all centered around the idea that mistakes equal failure and ultimately, the loss of any chance at a happy or rewarding life.
“This has not been my experience. My experience has been that my mistakes led to the best things in my life.
And 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 afterward and laugh about it? 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, if not more crucial, than the moments I was told ‘yes.’”
And like Jobs, she asked the youth to trust themselves in overcoming failure:
“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 on the internet. Hard things will happen to us. We will recover. We will learn from it…
“Losing things doesn’t just mean losing. A lot of the time, when we lose things, we gain things, too.”