In Taylor Carol’s hometown of Dana Point, California, the waves break leisurely along a buff marking the spot where his father proposed to his mother, 90-foot-long blue whales can be seen migrating every summer, and surfers emerge on beaches dripping and sun-tanned after bodysurfing on the waves. This is the picture of paradise that Taylor paints for me on a drizzly Cambridge afternoon.
Taylor—a blue-eyed, sandy-haired, classic California boy—radiates warmth every time he flashes his hundred-watt smile. His friend Jarrod Wetzel-Brown ’17 describes his laughter as “infectious, one of those laughs that you can’t help but laugh along to,” adding that “my nickname for him is ‘movie star’ because when you meet him, he automatically makes you feel very special, like his sole focus is on you.”
For such a charismatic young man, Taylor has been to the brink of death and back. In May 2006, his idyllic life was interrupted when he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. The doctors told him that he was terminal—that he had two weeks left to live. Amidst such devastating news, family and friends helped instill his fighting spirit into him, and according to Taylor, “eventually I was able to turn that disbelief into the knowledge that I would beat my cancer.”
He moved to the Children’s Hospital of Seattle, where he received a bone marrow transplant and started intensive chemotherapy. Due to his weakened immune system, he was placed in an isolation unit for six months, a period he described as the darkest point in his life. “I would be alone for days on end in this sedated, morphine state,” he recalled. “It was music that carried me through and inspired me—music [that] provided the rock in my life.”
Taylor’s musicality would be the litmus test that his parents and doctors used for his well-being. They would adjust his pain medication based on how musical he was being—depending on whether he was humming, whistling, or singing. “One day a Grammy-winning composer reached out to me to sing for a benefit concert,” said Taylor. The songwriter was Mateo Messina, a long-time volunteer at the children’s hospital who was famous for writing the soundtrack to Juno. Together they wrote and performed a song in front of a full orchestra, commemorating the moment that Taylor found his calling in life.
Taylor described his first performance as a moment of awakening. “I went out there as a very pale and very sickly boy, but when I felt that pain and that hurt and that anger being transformed into purpose-driven love, I knew that I had to use my talent to fight this horrific disease.” Since then Taylor has launched his career as a songwriter and musician. He has performed hundreds of times for charities and benefit concerts, collaborated with the songwriters for Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilara to record music, and sung the national anthem for the Red Sox and the Celtics.
“He’ll fly to L.A. for a concert on Friday and return on Sunday night, and he does this on a regular basis,” explained Wetzel-Brown. “All that he’s done for the community and his town back home is phenomenal…[and] he’s still so humble about everything.” Taylor’s sincerity is well-known to his mentors as well. “He’s got something special about him,” said Messina over a phone interview from L.A. “He has so much drive, so much passion. He genuinely appreciates his opportunities and his music, and I really believe that when you appreciate, you win.”
For Taylor, Harvard was a dream come true. He recounted the story of a well-meaning teacher who urged him to forgo college in favor of a GED to make up for his five years of missed school. Determined to prove his naysayers wrong, he told her, “I’m going to get into Harvard.” To this end, he bribed his teachers with baked goods to spend time with him after class, worked hard on his academics, and also received an outpouring of support from the community. His reaction when the acceptance email finally came? “Utter shock,” remarked Taylor with a grin.
At Harvard, friends describe Taylor as well-adjusted and well-loved. An English concentrator in Cabot House who has “no shame when it comes to public dancing in the middle of the library,” he is a leader for the Franklin Fellowship (alongside Stephen Turban ’17 and Gregory Foster ’17), as well as a brother of Sigma Chi. According to his friend Liz Stebbins ’17, “I remember being really impressed by how social he was, but also how genuine he was at the same time. I think everyone likes him so much because he gets to know so many people, and he reaches out to them on an individual level…he has this great story, but he’s also a normal kid.”
The biggest take-away he got from being sick? “Perspective,” said Taylor. “Even at our most stressed times, it’s so important to maintain perspective and to know that no matter what we’re going through right now, we’re going to get through it. That everything’s going to be OK.”
In the future, Taylor plans on using his talent as a way to advocate for social issues, with the ultimate goal of finding an end to cancer. “I see myself traveling as a singer-songwriter, and I’d love to use the platform that music provides to incite meaningful change—to incite solutions to social issues through music and the voice that music gives you.”