Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg had a message of resilience and hope for Virginia Tech graduates on Friday.
“I’ve spent the last two years studying resilience, because something happened in my life that demanded more of it than I ever needed before,” Sandberg said in a prepared draft of her speech.
In 2015, Sandberg’s husband, SurveyMonkey CEO Dave Goldberg, died of a cardiac arrhythmia while they were vacationing in Mexico. She suddenly became a widow in her 40s with two small children.
“Sometimes I can’t believe it actually happened. I woke up on what I thought would be a normal day. And out of nowhere, my world changed forever,” she said.
Sandberg said losing her husband has “fundamentally changed” how she views the world and how she lives in it every day. She said that Virginia Tech graduates have also faced challenges, heartbreak, illness and shared losses, like the shooting at the university in 2007, which was the second deadliest mass shooting in US history.
“You know that life can turn in an instant. And you know what it means to come together, to pull together, to grieve together, and most importantly, to overcome together,” she said.
When Goldberg died, the Facebook executive said she “hit the books” and began researching resilience and recovery with her friend Adam Grant, a psychologist and Wharton professor. Last month, Sandberg released a book called “Option B,” where she candidly discusses coping with grief while working in a high-level position at one of the world’s most valuable companies.
“The most important thing I learned is that resilience is not something we have or we don’t,” she said. “It’s a muscle that any of us can build.”
Along with the new book, Sandberg started a new nonprofit called OptionB.org for visitors to share stories about facing adversity and find support groups. The new movement is similar to her previous book and nonprofit “Lean In,” which focuses on helping women advance at work.
Sandberg encouraged the graduates to build “collective resilience” as a community, and to show up for each other rather than offering “generic help” when someone is in need.
“You don’t have to do something huge. You don’t have to wait until someone tells you exactly what they need. And you don’t have to be someone’s best friend from the first grade to show up,” she said.
Toward the end of the speech, Sandberg became choked up when she told graduates “we are stronger than we ever imagined.”
Sandberg also shared her New Year’s resolution from last year, which was to write down three moments of joy before going to bed every night.
“This very simple practice has changed my life. I used to go to bed thinking about everything that went wrong that day. Now I go to sleep thinking of what went right,” she said.
This is the sixth college commencement speech Sandberg has delivered.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the number of commencement addresses that Sheryl Sandberg has given.