Sheryl Sandberg at UC Berkeley, 2016 Commencement Speech

Last Updated: May 16, 2024

Sheryl Sandberg at UC Berkeley, 2016 Commencement Speech


Sheryl Sandberg at UC Berkeley, 2016 Commencement Speech

Introduction: Overcoming Adversity

Thank you, Chancellor Dirks, distinguished faculty, families and friends, and especially the class of 2016. I am honored to be here today.

I am not going to tell you today what you should do with your lives. You have to figure that out yourselves. But I am going to share what I have learned about life and leadership from my own challenges and experiences.

Personal Loss and Resilience: Life After Loss

Two years ago, I lost my husband, Dave, suddenly and unexpectedly. His death was the most devastating thing that has ever happened to me and my family. I felt like I would never feel pure joy again. A deep sorrow began to course through my veins. My world shattered in an instant, and I had no idea how to put the pieces back together.

For months, no matter what I did, I felt alone in that void. I felt that life as I knew it was gone, that I would never feel the same. A few weeks after Dave died, I was talking with a friend about a father-child activity that Dave was not here to do. We came up with a plan to fill in for him. I cried to my friend, β€œBut I want Dave. I want Option A.” He put his arm around me and said, β€œOption 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 then?

Resilience and Moving Forward: Finding Strength in Adversity

As I worked to regain my footing, I realized that life does not get better by chance. It gets better by change. And the very act of seeking to move forward, even when you are afraid, is the way to find your path.

There is no one way to grieve, and no one way to heal. I learned that I could find meaning in tragedy by helping others through their grief. By trying to find joy, I could still experience it. The sadness did not go away, but it receded like the tide, leaving behind moments of peace and laughter.

You will almost certainly face the same challenges I did. Unexpected things will happen in your life that will change your course forever. You will lose someone you cannot imagine living without. You will be rejected from a job you so desperately wanted. You will experience failure at some point in your life. When this happens, and it will, you must remember that you have a choice. You can give in to the void, the emptiness that fills your heart. Or you can try to find meaning. You can choose joy.

The Importance of Building Resilience: Psychological Toolkit

My hope is that you will never face the challenges I faced. But I also hope that if you do, you will find the resilience deep within you to move forward. I want to share three lessons with you today to help you build resilience in your own lives.

First, focus on gratitude. It is the most important thing I learned during this time. I am thankful for my children, who have given me a reason to get up every day. I am grateful for my friends, who have stood by me and helped me find my footing. I am thankful for my work, which has given me purpose and direction. Focusing on what I am grateful for has helped me through the darkest days.

Second, lean into your friends and family. When you are faced with adversity, you will want to isolate yourself. But that is when you need to reach out. Accept help and support. And when others face challenges, be there for them.

Third, allow yourself to feel joy. It may be hard, and it may take time, but joy is a powerful force. It gives us strength, and it helps us to keep moving forward. Don’t feel guilty for feeling joy, even in the face of loss.

Conclusion: Moving Forward with Strength

Class of 2016, you will face challenges in your life. That is inevitable. And the question is not if you will face them, but how you will face them. I hope you will build resilience. I hope you will focus on gratitude, lean into your friends and family, and allow yourself to feel joy. And I hope that when life throws you a curveball, you will find your own path forward and kick the shit out of Option B.

Congratulations, Class of 2016. I cannot wait to see the great things you will do. Thank you.


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