Here is the full transcript of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s 2016 commencement speech at UC Berkeley.
Right click to download the MP3 audio:
Introducer: …positively impacts our communities while being ambitious in all aspects of our lives. We could use some inspiration.
So without further ado, please help me welcome Sheryl Sandberg.
Sheryl Sandberg – COO, Facebook
Thank you. Thank you, Marie. And thank you esteemed members of the faculty, proud parents, devoted friends, squirming siblings. Congratulations to all of you, but especially congratulations to the magnificent Berkeley Class of 2016!
It’s my 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!
Berkeley has always been ahead of the times. As Chancellor Dirks said, in the 1960s, you led the Free Speech Movement. Back then, people used to say with all the hair, how do we even tell the men from the women? Today we know the answer: manbuns.
Early on, Berkeley opened its doors to the entire population. When this campus opened in 1873, you had 167 men and 222 women. It took my alma mater another 90 years to give a single degree to a single woman.
One of the women who came here in search of opportunity was Rosalind Nuss. Roz grew up scrubbing floors in the Brooklyn boardinghouse where she lived. In high school, her parents pulled her out of school to help support the family. And it was a local teacher who talked to her parents into putting her back into school. In 1937, she sat where you sit today and she became a Berkeley graduate.
Roz was my grandmother. She is one of the major sources of inspiration in my life. I was born on her birthday. And I’m so grateful to Berkeley for recognizing her potential. And I want to say a special congratulations to the many who today become the first in your families to graduate from college. What a remarkable achievement!
Today is a day of celebration. A day to celebrate all the hard work that got you to this moment.
Today is a day of thanks. A day to thank all the people who helped you get here – the people who taught you and nurtured you, cheered you on, and dried your tears. Or at least in right on you with a Sharpie when you fell asleep at a party.
Today is a day of reflection. Because today marks the end of one era of your life and the beginning of something new.
A commencement address is meant to be a dance between youth and wisdom. You provide the youth. Someone comes up here to be the voice of wisdom — that’s supposed to be me. I tell you all the things I have learned in life, you throw your cap in the air, you let your family take a million photos and hopefully post them on Instagram — and then we all go home happy.
Today is going to be a bit different. We will still do the caps and you still have to do the photos. But I am not going to tell you today what I’ve learned in life. Today I am going to try to tell you what I learned in death.
I have not spoken about this publicly before, and it’s hard. But I promise not to blow my nose on this beautiful Berkeley robe.
One year and thirteen days ago, I lost my husband, Dave. His death was sudden and unexpected. We were in Mexico, celebrating a friend’s 50th birthday party. I took a nap. He went to work out. What followed was the unthinkable – I walked into a gym to find him lying on the floor. I flew home to tell my children that their father was gone. I watched his casket being lowered into the ground.
For many months afterward, and at many times since, I was swallowed up in the deep fog of grief — what I think of as the void — an emptiness that fills your heart, and your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even to breathe.
Dave’s death changed me in very profound ways. I learned about the depths of sadness and the brutality of loss. But I also learned that when life sucks you under, you can kick against the bottom, find the surface, and breathe again. I learned that in the face of the void — or in the face of any challenge — you can choose joy and meaning.
I’m sharing this with you today in the hopes that on this day in your life with all the momentum and joy, you can learn in life the lessons that I only learned in death. Lessons about hope, about strength, and about the light within us that will not be extinguished.
Everyone who has made it through Cal has already experienced some disappointment. You wanted an A but you got a B. Let’s be honest. You got an A minus but you’re still mad. You applied for an internship at Facebook, but you only got one at Google. She was clearly the love of your life but then she swiped left.
Game of Thrones, the show, has diverged way too much from the books — and you are mad because you read all 4,352 pages.
You will almost certainly face more and deeper adversity. There’s loss of opportunity: the job that doesn’t work out, the illness or crime which changes everything in an instant. There’s loss of dignity: the sharp sting of prejudice when it happens. There’s loss of love: the broken relationships that can’t be repaired. And sometimes there’s loss of life itself.
Many of you have already experienced the kind of tragedy and hardship that leave an indelible mark. Last year, Radhika, the winner of the University Medal, spoke so beautifully about the sudden loss of her mother. The question is not if some of these things will happen to you. They will. But I want to talk about today is what you do next. About the things you can do to overcome adversity, no matter when it hits you or how it hit. The easy days ahead of you will be easy. It is the hard days — the days that challenge you to your very core — that will determine who you are. You will be defined not just by what you achieve, but by how you survive.
A few weeks after Dave died, I was talking to my friend Phil about a father-son activity Dave would not here to do. We came in with a plan to fill in for Dave. But I cried to Phil, “But I want Dave.” Phil put his arm around me and said, “Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of option B.”
We all at some point live some form of option B. The question is: What do we do next?
As a representative of Silicon Valley, I’m pleased to tell you that there is data we can learn from. After spending decades studying how people deal with setbacks, psychologist Martin Seligman found that there are three P’s — personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence — that are critical to how we bounce back from hardship. The seeds of resilience are planted in the way we process the negative events of our lives.
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.