The first concert of Taylor Swift's new tour was an epic night for these kids.

Are you a Taylor Swift devotee?

If so, you already know that the artist whose most earnest pop songs you belt out at karaoke is about to embark on a huge tour in Spring 2018. And if not — you probably still know.

Thanks to a load of publicity about the tour's kickoff, all of us probably know at least something about Swift's upcoming worldwide extravaganza — such as that she's using something called a "rocket sled" to torpedo herself from one side of backstage to another. Sounds terrifying. But hey, she's the professional.


Swift's first show of the tour was done for a select group of VIPs — a very special group of superfans.

On May 5, Swift played a private show in Arizona.  The attendees, all of whom had been sworn to secrecy, were 2,000 local foster kids and their families. And if you're thinking, "oh my god," let me assure you that's what was running through the invitees' minds as they opened the email from Arizona Association for Foster and Adoptive Parents (AZAFAP).

"We first thought this was a spam [email] or something," Janine Waldera tells me. She took her grandchildren, whom she's adopted, to the show. When she accepted the invite, she says, she also agreed to abide by strict rules of confidentiality. No phones, no cameras, and no telling anyone about the specifics of the show. (So if you came to this post looking for a setlist, friend, stay for the feels instead.)

Photo by Janine Waldera, with permission.

The show itself? Like nothing anyone expected. AZ Central reports that concert-goers were greeted with tables of snacks and drinks at the University of Phoenix stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Then Swift came out, said hello, and asked if anyone would mind if she did her entire two-hour show. Unsurprisingly, everyone held their peace.

"It was overwhelming to see so many people that came," Waldera told AZ Central. "[Swift] told all of us that we had more energy than if the stadium was filled and a sold-out concert. Kids were so excited, screaming, dancing, and they let everybody walk around."

But no one had seen anything yet: Swift, who's been a lighting rod in popular culture  ("do we love her or do we hate her?" seems to be the concept behind her latest album) had a few more surprises. After giving the kids and their families even more sugar — she served pizza and brownies and, oh my god, this show sounds amazing because do you know how much that stuff costs at the stadium? — she took the time to meet with everyone. In the parking lot, AZ Central reports, Swift's parents handed out souvenirs.

The concert was may more than just entertainment.

Sure, the kids had a great time with Swift, but they also got to meet other kids who have had similar experiences. And the invitation, AZAFAP president Kris Jacober told reporters, was "like a miracle." One that's especially poignant in May — National Foster Care Month.  

"The association's been around for 13 years," she said, "and nobody has ever made us an offer like this. I know this doesn’t happen every day. We just are deeply appreciative of her kindness toward our families."

Swift was sending an important message with her show: Foster families deserve to be seen and recognized.  

Waldera tells me that one of the best parts of the evening was families making connections with each other. "It was a great way of networking with other families," she says. As for the kids? "It's a memory my children will always cherish."

"There was no way we could have afforded to take our children to this amazing concert," she enthuses. "Taylor was so generous with her time, and she made all the kids there feel like they were rock stars!"

Photo courtesy of Janine Waldera.

Call it what you want (isn't that a Taylor Swift song?), but the night was truly magical. And even if you aren't a fan of her music, we can all be fans of the fact that Taylor Swift is an artist who gives back to the community.

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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