Jenny Dhoumo and Lauren Kirshenbaum discovered it on Instagram.
Ms Dhoumo, a 24-year-old senior from New York University, was in a cafe doing her homework when she saw a Rolling Stone friend’s repost announcing that Taylor Swift would speak at the beginning of NYU this month and would receive an honorary doctorate of fine arts.
Ms Dhoumo, who will receive a degree in media, culture and communications, after a difficult college enrollment that lasted seven years at three universities – she took time off to work and help her family – has been a fan of Ms Swift since she was a child in Queens; Ms. Swift’s debut album was the first CD she owned. She worried about her prospects after graduation. The news seemed to bode well.
“It felt like a strange sign, like an assurance that everything will be fine,” Ms. Dhoumo said at the flower-bedecked edge of Washington Square Park, the public space in Greenwich Village that doubles as the university’s quad. “I think she’s this icon of my youth, and now that she’s here as an adult, she’s coming back to me. Not to relive my childhood, but maybe to connect me a bit to my inner child. Say, “Remember who you were when you were 11, and now you’re here today, this young woman, getting ready for the world.”
Ms Kirshenbaum, a 22-year-old computer science student who describes herself as an ‘average fan’ of Ms Swift, marveled at the singer’s persistence and relevance in her life. “It’s crazy to think about the people I grew up with — Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, Harry Styles — and how relevant they still are,” she said. “We kind of evolved with them.”
Conversations with half a dozen NYU graduates approached in the park demonstrated the extent of their connection to Ms Swift.
The pop star has had 10 number 1 albums on the Billboard charts since 2006, almost all of them in those students’ memory. So this personal connection with her and her songs can be specific.
“She feels deeply. He’s a great talent,” said Senniah Mason, a 21-year-old international relations student from Phoenix, who had her photo taken with her roommate, Isabelle Jacques, a 22-year-old psychology student from Boston. “If I hear it, I’ll listen to it, but I’m not doing my best to find it.” She stopped. “‘1989’, I love that album, actually. ‘Safe and Sound’, ‘Out of the Woods’, I love those songs too.”
Ms. Jacques echoed this sentiment: “She seems really great and nice. So it will be great to see her speak. But I can’t say I’m dying.
Recent issues on US college campuses
Ms. Swift’s ubiquity extends to social media, a pervasive scroll this cohort was first immersed in throughout their teenage years. She has nearly 300 million followers combined on Instagram and Twitter. Although she doesn’t follow anyone and hasn’t posted much lately, her existence on these platforms during these students’ formative years has created a connection for many.
“I think in my generation, in particular, there are these parasocial relationships that develop with celebrities,” Ishaan Parmar, a 20-year-old film student from the Bay Area, said with a professorial air. “So people will say that Taylor Swift speaks at my graduation, and they think there’s going to be some kind of one-on-one connection with Taylor Swift. In reality, it’s probably a speech that she may or may not have written that she’s going to deliver at Yankee Stadium, but it’s still cool.
According to an emailed statement from John Beckman, senior vice president of public affairs at NYU, honorary doctorates are chosen from fields in which the university conducts research and teaches – the sciences, social sciences , humanities, arts, law, medicine, commerce, public service. “We select recipients whose talents, achievements and actions will serve as role models for our graduates.” Past winners include Sonia Sotomayor, Ang Lee, Bill Clinton, Aretha Franklin, Janet Yellen, Hillary Clinton and Clive Davis.
“The awarding of honorary degrees is a distinction that NYU takes very seriously,” Mr. Beckman wrote. “We have a thorough selection process that begins with an official written nomination by a member of the NYU community, followed by a vetting process by staff, and then review and approval by the NYU Senate. university, and ultimately by the board of trustees.” Asked how specific recipients are chosen, he wrote that “the nomination process and review of nominees is confidential.”
Ms. Swift’s choice is not unlikely. She’s among the most famous people of her generation, and Brittany Spanos, a senior Rolling Stone writer, gave her a class this year at NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music (previous classes in this series have covered Stevie Wonder , James Brown, Aretha Franklin and David Bowie. Asked if the course was related to the honorary doctorate, Mr. Beckman wrote: “There is no connection, as far as I know; it is a coincidence.”
“She really elevated the conversation about the role of female pop star,” said Nekesa Mumbi Moody, editorial director of The Hollywood Reporter. Ms. Moody wrote a chapter on Ms. Swift for the 2018 book “Women Who Rock: Bessie to Beyonce.” Girl Groups to Riot Grrrl,” and her interviews with Ms. Swift for The Associated Press date almost from the artist’s earliest days.
She noted Ms. Swift’s songwriting abilities, her ability to connect with her fans and, above all, her zeal. “She made us rethink the way we look at how female songwriters discuss their own heartaches,” Ms. Moody said. “She’s certainly endured a lot of conversations about it, some of which are sexist.”
Although Ms. Kirshenbaum stopped listening to Ms. Swift’s music in high school, she has returned to it recently and finds it freshly stimulating. “I remember growing up, all these teen magazines, and being portrayed as someone who would go out a lot and then break up and write songs about these people,” she said. “Now we don’t see it that way. We see more complexities.
Ms. Swift’s ability to steer her music in new directions and respond to industry challenges in new ways also commands respect.
Johnson Liu, a lively 21-year-old biology student from Queens, described himself as “not much of a fan”, having given up any brief affection for Ms Swift in favor of heavy metal years ago. But he expressed respect for her ability to switch genres, to “jump around trying new techniques and approaches”, calling the quality “pretty awesome”.
When ownership of her songwriting catalog was sold to Scooter Braun, Ms Swift was livid. Disregarding the system, she re-records and re-releases her first six albums, allowing her to keep the rights to new releases, and give songs a new twist. Her fans flocked to the albums. Even Swift skeptics like Mr Parmar have described the tactic as “a nice boss shot”.
Additionally, all of the students interviewed for this article believed that having Ms. Swift as a keynote speaker brought cachet to their school and promotion, and radiated joy in college careers disrupted by the pandemic. His appearance felt like a gift, especially because so many people they knew, and even people they didn’t know, had approached them to attend.
“People are crazy about these tickets,” Mr. Parmar said. Ms Dhoumo said she had heard of people trying to resell them, “but we’re not allowed to”.
“It’s not that I thought about it,” she added. “But I thought, fuck, this is like a really expensive ticket. It’s like the golden ticket to the candy factory in “Willy Wonka”.
“I got text messages from my friends saying, ‘Oh my God’ and ‘I’m so jealous’ and ‘Are you selling your tickets? ‘” Ms. Mason said. “I was like, no. I graduated from college. I want my mom there.
Students only get two tickets, and the university tries to enforce its ban on selling tickets to the event any way it can, even threatening to revoke violators’ degrees. He also reminds the audience that the talk Ms Swift will give is traditionally a five to 10 minute affair, and delivered on behalf of all the winners. (Susan Hockfield, president of MIT, and Felix V. Mátos Rodriguez, chancellor of CUNY, will also receive honorary doctorates.)
“People should know that Ms. Swift, whom we are so honored to have as one of our honorary degree recipients this year, will speak and not perform,” Mr. Beckman wrote. “Of course, his fans are very passionate, so I’m not sure even this realization will dampen their passion.”