Lessons From Sheryl Sandberg’s Graduation Speech

By Peter Economy|08-09-2017 | 1 Min Read


The joy of gratitude and appreciation


I’ve been to more than a few commencement ceremonies over the years but, when I attended my daughter Skylar’s commencement for the UC Berkeley Class of 2016, I had no idea what was to come – none of us did.

Long story short, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg gave the most moving, heartfelt speech I’ve ever experienced – bar none.

As Sheryl pointed out, the typical commencement speaker tells students all the things he or she has learned in life, the graduates throw their caps in the air, their parents take lots of photos, and everyone goes home happy. However, Sheryl decided to turn this typical commencement address on its head.

Said Sheryl to the thousands in attendance: “Today will be a bit different. We will still do the caps and you still have to do the photos. But I am not here to tell you all the things I’ve learned in life. Today I will try to tell you what I learned in death.”

Through the tragic death of her husband, Dave Goldberg, a little over a year ago, Sheryl discovered a tremendous reservoir of resilience that helped get her through this terrible, life-altering experience.

See related post: Remembering Dave Goldberg, The Ultimate Mensch

According to Sheryl, she found this resilience by overcoming the three Ps described by psychologist Martin Seligman – relentlessly, one by one. These include:


After her husband died of a heart arrhythmia while the couple was on vacation in Mexico, Sheryl blamed herself for not noticing the symptoms of his illness.

Getting past this self-blame was the first step in building resilience.

“Studies show that getting past personalisation can actually make you stronger,” said Sheryl.

“Teachers who knew they could do better after students failed adjusted their methods and saw future classes go on to excel.

“College swimmers who underperformed but believed they were capable of swimming faster, did. Not taking failures personally allows us to recover – and even to thrive.”


Sheryl explained that pervasiveness is “the belief that an event will affect all areas of your life.”

And, in her case, the loss of her husband understandably led to an all-consuming sadness.

She continued:

“I remember sitting in my first Facebook meeting in a deep, deep haze. All I could think was, ‘what is everyone talking about and how could this possibly matter?’

“But then I got drawn into the discussion and for a second – a brief split second – I forgot about death. That brief second helped me see that there were other things in my life that were not awful.”


According to Sheryl, permanence is “the belief that the sorrow will last forever.”

“For months, no matter what I did, it felt like the crushing grief would always be there,” she said.

“We often project our current feelings indefinitely – and experience what I think of as the second derivative of those feelings. We feel anxious, and then we feel anxious that we’re anxious.

“We feel sad, and then we feel sad that we’re sad. Instead, we should accept our feelings while recognising that they will not last forever.”

In addition, Sheryl suggested that finding gratitude and appreciation is key to resilience. “People who take the time to list things they are grateful for are happier and healthier. It turns out that counting your blessings can actually increase your blessings.

“My New Year’s Resolution this year was to write down three moments of joy before I go to bed each night. This simple practice has changed my life.

“Because no matter what happens each day, I go to sleep thinking of something cheerful. Try it. Start tonight when you have so many fun moments to list.”


To connect with Peter, e-mail editor@leaderonomics.com.

Reposted with permission.

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Peter Economy has written more than 80 books on a variety of business and leadership topics. You can read more of his leadership articles at the website below.
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