Sheryl sandberg reflects on her behalf husband’s death and how she bounced back

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and founder of, delivered Virginia Tech’s commencement speech for the graduating class of 2017 on Friday, May 12. You can view it in the video (her remarks start at 1:12:23) and read her “as prepared” transcript below.

Hello Hokies!

President Sands, esteemed faculty and staff, proud parents, devoted friends, squirming siblings … congratulations to all or any of you. & most of most, congratulations to the Virginia Tech class of 2017!

I’m honored to be with you upon this beautiful day. I’m quite a distance from Silicon Valley… but being somewhere with “Tech” in its name feels exactly like home.

I’m delighted to be joined by my pal and colleague Regina Dugan. Regina used to perform DARPA — for real! — the agency at the Pentagon that develops breakthrough technologies. She now runs the team at

Facebook that develops breakthrough technologies. In Hokie terms, she’s our Bruce Smith. And she actually is one among so many alums doing amazing things all over the world.

Today, class of 2017, you join them. I’m thrilled for you personally. And I’m thrilled for your friends and family — all the individuals who pushed you and believed in you, from your own first day even today. Let’s take the time to thank them.

Commencement speeches could be pretty one-sided. The speaker — that’s me — imparts her hard-earned wisdom… or at least tries to. The graduates — that’s you — listen just like the thoughtful teenagers you

are. You then hurl your caps in the air, hug friends and family, let your families have a million pictures of you — (maybe even post them on Instagram) — and head off into your amazing lives… maybe swinging by Sharkey’s for just one last bowl of wings prior to going.

Today’s likely to be considered a little different. I’m not likely to talk about something I understand and you don’t. I would like to talk about something the Virginia Tech community knows all too well. I would like to discuss resilience.

This university is well known for most things. Your kindness and decency… your academic excellence… your deeply-felt school spirit. I’ve spent time at a whole lot of colleges — for work, not because I’m trying to relive my 20s. Few people talk about their school just how Hokies discuss Virginia Tech. There is indeed much pride and unity upon this campus, and such a solid sense of identity.

I’m likely to prove this by asking one particular question:

What’s a Hokie? [I am!]


Everything you may not realize is that that Hokie spirit has made everyone more resilient. I’ve spent the last 2 yrs studying resilience, because something happened in my own life that demanded more of it than I ever needed before.

2 yrs and eleven days ago, my beloved husband Dave passed on suddenly and unexpectedly. Sometimes I can’t believe it actually happened. I woke through to what I thought will be a normal day.

And out of nowhere, my world changed forever.

I know, I understand — beautiful day, proudest moment of your lives, and I’m up here discussing death. I promise there’s grounds — and even one that’s not sad.

What I’ve learned since losing Dave has fundamentally changed how I view the world and how I reside in it each day. And I wish to share that with you, because I really believe it can help you lead happier, healthier and ultimately more joyful lives.

Each one of you walked a unique way to reach this day. A few of you faced real trauma. Everyone faced challenges of some sort. Grief, loss, heartbreak, disappointment, illness — most of these are so personal if they strike — however they are also in a few ways so universal.

Then there will be the shared losses. The Virginia Tech community does know this. You’ve stopped for a quiet moment by the 32 Hokie stones on the Drillfield, as I did so with President Sands today. You’ve joined friends and family for the “Run in Remembrance.” You understand that life can change immediately. And guess what happens it means to get together, to pull together, to grieve together & most importantly, to overcome together.

After Dave died, I did so a thing that I’ve done at other crisis in my own life: I hit the books. With my pal Adam Grant, a psychologist who studies how exactly we find meaning inside our lives, I dove in to the research on resilience and recovery.

The main thing I learned is that resilience isn’t something we’ve or we don’t. When Dave died, I kept asking Adam, “How do you understand how resilient I am? How do you know if my kids are resilient?”

As it happens those were the incorrect questions. We don’t have a set amount of resilience — it’s a muscle that anybody can build.

We build resilience in ourselves. We build it in the people we love. And we build it together, as a community. That’s called “collective resilience,” and it’s a remarkably powerful force — one which our country and world need so badly at this time. It’s inside our relationships with one another that people find our will to live, our capacity to love and the energy to create lasting change in the world.

Class of 2017, you are particularly suitable for the task of creating collective resilience because you are graduating from Virginia Tech. Communities such as this don’t just happen. They are formed and strengthened by people coming together in very specific ways. You’ve been part of this here, perhaps without even knowing it. As you set off and be leaders — and you may lead, you are destined for this — you possibly can make the communities you join — and the communities you form — stronger.

Here’s where you start.

You can build collective resilience through shared experiences. You’ve had some of these: jumping to “Enter Sandman,” enduring the walk over the Drillfield in the wintertime (like Jon Snow at the Wall), finding new loves and NEW new loves, supporting one another through triumph and disappointment. You might not have realized it, but every class, every meal, every all-nighter has added another strand to a vast web connecting you to one another also to Hokies everywhere.

These ties do a lot more than connect — they support. Nearly 30 years back, a very talented son from an underprivileged background managed to get to college, but left before graduating. He said, “EASILY had my posse with me, I never could have dropped out.” That insight led an incredible woman named Deborah Bial to create the Posse Foundation, which recruits high-potential students in teams of 10 to go from the same city to the same college. Posse kids have a 90 percent graduation rate from the best schools in the united states.

Most of us need our posses — particularly when life puts obstacles inside our path. Out there on the planet, you will need to build your own posse — that will sometimes require requesting help.

This is not easy for me personally. Before Dave died, I tried to bother people less than possible — and “bothering people” is how I considered it. I QUICKLY lost Dave, and suddenly I needed my children and friends as part of your. My mom — who along with my father is here now with me today — stayed with me for the first month, literally holding me until I cried myself to sleep every night. I had never felt weaker. But I learned that it requires strength to depend on others. There are occasions to lean in and there are occasions to lean on.

Creating a posse does mean acknowledging our friends’ challenges. Before I lost Dave, if a pal was facing something hard, I’d say how sorry I was — once. I QUICKLY usually wouldn’t take it up again because I didn’t want to remind them of their pain. Losing Dave taught me how absurd that was — you can’t remind me I lost Dave. But like I had finished with others, people often avoided this issue with me. It had been such as a giant elephant was following me around everywhere I went.

It’s not merely death that ushers for the reason that elephant. Want to silence an area? Say you have cancer, your father visited jail, you merely lost your task. We often retreat into silence whenever we need one another the most. Of course, not everyone would want to talk about everything on a regular basis. But saying to a pal, “I understand you are suffering and I am here to talk if you wish to” can kick an ugly elephant right out of an area and keep isolation from increasing your friend’s pain.

In case you are in someone’s posse, don’t just offer to greatly help in a generic way. Instead, arrive. Before I lost Dave, when I had friends facing hardship, I often asked, “Will there be anything I could do?” I meant it kindly however now I understand that question sort of shifts the responsibility to the individual in need. So when people asked me, I didn’t know very well what to say. “Is it possible to make Father’s Day disappear completely?” Here’s an easier way to accomplish it.

When my pal Dan Levy’s son was sick in a healthcare facility, a pal texted him, “What don’t you want on a burger?” Another friend said she was downstairs in a healthcare facility lobby for another hour for a hug whether he came downstairs or not.

You don’t want to do something huge. You don’t need to wait until someone lets you know exactly what they want. And you don’t must be someone’s best friend from the first grade showing up. When you are there for friends and family, and let them be there for you personally — in the event that you laugh together until your sides ache, hold one another while you cry and perhaps even bring them a burger before they ask — that won’t just cause you to more resilient, it will assist you to live a deeper and more meaningful life.

We also build collective resilience through shared narratives. That may sound light — how important can a tale be? But stories are vital. They’re how exactly we explain our past and set expectations for our future. Plus they help us build the normal knowing that creates community to begin with.

Each and every time your friends retell a common tales — like, I don’t know, when Tech beat UVA in double overtime — you strengthen your bonds to one another.

Shared narratives are crucial for fighting injustice and creating social change. A couple of years ago, we started LeanIn.Org to greatly help work toward gender equality — helping men and women form Lean In circles — small groups that meet to aid each other’s ambitions. Nowadays there are a lot more than 33,000 Circles in over 150 countries. It wasn’t until I lost Dave that I must say i understood why Circles are thriving — because they build collective resilience.

Recently, I was in Beijing and had an opportunity to talk with women from Lean In Circles across China.

Like in a whole lot of places, it is usually hard to become a woman in China. If you’re unmarried past 27, you’re called sheng nu — a “leftover woman.” And I thought the term “widow” was bad! The stigma that is included with being single could be intense. One woman — a 36-year-old economics professor — was rejected by 15 men because she was — await it — too educated. From then on, her father forbade her younger sister from obtaining a graduate degree.

But a lot more than 80,000 ladies in China attended together in Circles to create a fresh, shared narrative. One Circle created a play called The Leftover Monologues, which celebrates being “leftover” women and assumes topics often unspoken, like sexual harassment, date rape and homophobia. The world told them what their stories ought to be, plus they said, actually, we’re writing a different future for ourselves.

We aren’t leftover. We’ve value, we’ve strength and we write our very own story together.

Building collective resilience does mean trying to understand the way the world looks to anyone who has experienced it differently – because they’re a different race, result from another country, have an economic background unlike yours. We each have our very own story but we are able to write new ones together, and which means seeing the worthiness in each other’s points of view and looking for common ground.

Anyone here just a little anxious about their future? Unsure of where life is taking you? Yeah, sometimes me too. Guess what happens can help you combat that fear? An extremely big idea captured in a single tiny word: hope.

There are numerous kinds of hope. There’s the hope that she wouldn’t swipe left. Sorry. There’s the hope that your stuff will magically pack itself as you sit here. There’s the hope that I’d be achieved speaking right now. Double sorry. But the best kind of hope is named grounded hope — the knowing that invest the action you may make things better.

We normally think about hope as something individual people hold within their heads and within their hearts. But hope — like resilience — is something we grow and nurture together.

Two days ago, I visited Mother Emanuel church in Charleston. Everybody knows about the shooting that occurred there nearly 2 yrs ago, claiming the lives of a pastor and eight worshippers. What happened afterward was extraordinary. Rather than being consumed by hatred, the city came together to stand against racism and violence. As an area pastor Jermaine Watkins beautifully put it: “To hatred, we say no chance, not today. To division, we say no chance, not today. To lack of hope, we say no chance, not today.”

That was the theme of maybe the most touching Facebook post I’ve ever read — and let’s face it, I’ve read a whole lot of Facebook posts. That one was compiled by Antoine Leiris, a French journalist whose wife Helèn was killed in the 2015 Paris terrorist attack. Just two days later — two days — he wrote a letter to his wife’s killers. He said, “On Friday night, you stole the life span of a fantastic being, the love of my entire life, the mother of my son. But you’ll not need my hate.” And my 17-month-old son “will play as we do each day, and all his life this little boy will defy you when you are happy and free. Because you won’t have his hate either.”

Strength like this makes those who view it stronger. Hope like this makes most of us more hopeful. That’s how collective resilience works — we lift one another up.

This all may seem very intuitive for you Hokies. These qualities of collective resilience — shared experiences, shared narratives, shared hope — shine forth out of every corner of the university. You certainly are a testament to courage, faith and love — and that’s been true, not only for these past a decade, but for greater than a century before that. This university means too much to you, graduates… but it addittionally means too much to America also to the world. So most of us look to you for example of how exactly to stay strong and brave and true.

That’s your legacy, Class of 2017. You will always make it with you — that convenience of finding strength in others and helping them find strength in you.

Virginia Tech has given you an objective, reflected in your motto, “That I MIGHT Serve.” A significant way that you could serve is by helping build resilience on the planet. We’ve a responsibility to greatly help families and communities are more resilient, because none folks do that alone. We do it together.

As you leave this beautiful campus and lay out in to the world, build resilience in yourselves. When tragedy or disappointment strike, understand that you have the opportunity to complete absolutely anything. I promise you do. As the word goes, we are more vulnerable than we ever thought, but we are more powerful than we ever truly imagined.

Build resilient organizations. Speak up when you see injustice. Lend your time and effort and passion to causes that matter. The best poster at the job reads, “Nothing at Facebook is someone else’s problem.” When you see something that’s broken, go correct it. Your motto demands that you do.

Build resilient communities. Virginia Tech founded the Global Forum on Resilience four years back, and it’s doing outstanding work in this field. Be there for your friends and family. And I mean personally — not only with a heart emoji. Be there for your neighbors; it’s a divided amount of time in our country, and we are in need of you to greatly help us heal. Lift one another up and celebrate just about every moment of joy. Because just about the most important methods for you to build resilience is by cultivating gratitude.

2 yrs ago, if a pal had explained that I’d lose the love of my entire life and be more grateful, I’d do not have believed them. But that’s what happened. I’m more grateful now than I was before — for my children and especially my children. For my friends. For might work. Forever itself.

Before I lost Dave, it never occurred if you ask me that he’d not grow old, that people would not get old together. Now I understand how precious life is and I understand much better than to take it for granted.

Some time ago, my cousin Laura turned 50. Graduates, you might not appreciate how turning 50 can feel not-so-great — but I bet your parents do. I called her that morning and I said, “I am calling to wish you a happy birthday. But I am also calling in the event you woke up today with that feeling of ‘oh my God, I’m 50’ thing. This is actually the year that Dave won’t turn 50.” Either we grow older, or we don’t. Forget about jokes about ageing. Each year — every moment — is something special.

And you don’t need to await special occasions, like graduations, to feel and show your gratitude to your loved ones, friends, professors, baristas — everyone. Counting your blessings can in fact increase them.

Individuals who take time to concentrate on the items they are grateful for are happier and healthier.

My New Year’s resolution this past year was to jot down three moments of joy before I visited bed every night. This very easy practice has changed my entire life. I used to visit bed considering everything that went wrong that day. Now I fall asleep thinking about what went right. So when those moments of joy happen during the day, I notice them more because I understand they’ll make the notebook. Check it out. Start tonight, upon this day filled with happy memories — but maybe before you hit Big Al’s.

Graduates, on the road before you, you should have good days and hard days. Proceed through every one of them together. Seek shared experiences with all sorts of people. Write shared narratives that induce the world you intend to reside in. Build shared hope in the communities you join and the communities you form.

And most importantly, find gratitude for the gift of life itself and the opportunities it offers for meaning, for joy, and for love.