Earlier today, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg gave a stirring, emotional, and inspirational commencement speech to graduating students at UC Berkeley. The speech was focused on the subject of resiliency, with Sandberg recounting the hours, days, and weeks that followed the unexpected death of her husband, David Goldberg.
Like Sandberg, who is Facebook’s COO and a successful author, Goldberg was a fixture of Silicon Valley before a sudden emergency last May that occurred while the couple was vacationing 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.”
“I’m sharing this with you today in the hope that on this day in your lives, with all the momentum and the joy, you can learn in life the lessons I only learned in death. Lessons about hope, about strength, and about the light in us that will not be extinguished.” There were lighter moments to come, with Sandberg using “You applied for an internship at Facebook, but you only got one at Google” as an example of the type of adversity that students might’ve faced during their college tenure. Her goal was to prepare them for the harder, more difficult challenges that life inevitably presents us with — and she did so in tremendous and strong fashion. In dealing with her grief, Sandberg’s rabbi told her to “lean into the suck” of grief. “Good advice, but not really what I meant by Lean In,” she told the crowd. Below is an except, but the entire speech, which is about 25 minutes, is absolutely worth watching yourself.
But I am also aware that I am walking without pain. For the first time, I am grateful for each breath in and out—grateful for the gift of life itself. I used to celebrate my birthday every five years and friends’ birthdays sometimes. Now I celebrate always. I used to go to sleep worrying about all the things I messed up that day—and trust me that list was often quite long. Now I try really hard to focus on each day’s moments of joy.
It is 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.