Sheryl Sandberg Gave an Emotional Commencement Speech at UC Berkeley About Grief, Resilience, and Gratitude
UC Berkeley's class of 2016 received quite a different kind of commencement speech at their graduation this weekend. A different, but also brilliantly profound, one. Facebook COO and Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg kicked off her commencement speech for the new grads with the usual light jokes—"It is a privilege to be here at Berkeley, which has produced so many Nobel Prize winners, Turing Award winners, astronauts, members of Congress, Olympic gold medalists.... and that's just the women!" She also spoke of her grandmother Rosalind Nuss, who was a 1937 graduate of Berkeley.
But then her speech took a different and poignant turn as Sandberg opened up for the first time about the death of her husband Dave Goldberg. Goldberg, also a Silicon Valley titan, suddenly died last year at the age of 47 of cardiac arrest on a vacation in Mexico. "Dave's death changed me in very profound ways. I learned about the depths of sadness and the brutality of loss," Sandberg said. "But I also learned that when life sucks you under, you can kick against the bottom, find the surface, and breathe again." She continued, "I'm sharing this with you in the hopes that today, as you take the next step in your life, you can learn the lessons that I only learned in death. Lessons about hope, strength, and the light within us that will not be extinguished."
On a slightly lighter note she said, "Everyone who has made it through Cal has already experienced some disappointment. You wanted an A but you got a B. OK, let's be honest—you got an A- but you're still mad. You applied for an internship at Facebook, but you only got one from Google. She was clearly the love of your life... but then she swiped left."
The Harvard graduate spoke of how the psychologist Martin Seligman's three Ps—personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence—have helped her guide her life through this tumultuous time. "The first P is personalization—the belief that we are at fault. This is different from taking responsibility, which you should always do. This is the lesson that not everything that happens to us happens because of us." For pervasiveness, she talked about having to realize that part of life had to move on. Finally for permanence, she said she could instead "accept (her) feelings—but recognize that they will not last forever."
To conclude, "the greatest irony of my life, that losing my husband helped me find deeper gratitude, gratitude for the kindness of my friends, the love of my family, the laughter of my children. My hope for you is that you can find that gratitude—not just on the good days, like today, but on the hard ones, when you will really need it." She continued, "There are so many moments of joy ahead of you," she continued. "That trip you always wanted to take. A first kiss with someone you really like. The day you get a job doing something you truly believe in. Beating Stanford. (Go Bears!) All of these things will happen to you. Enjoy each and every one."
Watch Sandberg's speech in its entirety in the video above.