Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg discusses grief, resilience at 2016 commencement ceremony

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Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer for Facebook, delivered the keynote address at the campus’s Class of 2016’s graduating ceremony Saturday, during which she shared with the audience her experiences overcoming grief and the importance of resilience.

According to Sandberg, Saturday was her first time speaking publicly of her husband since his death just over a year ago. She discussed the sadness that her family faced, as well as how she overcame it by recognizing the “three Ps” of grief — personalization, pervasiveness and permanence.

“I learned about the depths of sadness and the brutality of loss,” Sandberg said in her speech. “But I also learned that when life sucks you under, you can kick against the bottom, break 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.”

Sandberg, author of “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” — a book about how to empower working women — has promoted gender equality in the workforce throughout her career.

In her speech, Sandberg paid tribute to the history of women at UC Berkeley, focusing in particular on her grandmother, Rosalind Nuss, who graduated from UC Berkeley in 1937. Nuss received a degree after growing up scrubbing the floors of her Brooklyn boarding house.

According to graduating senior Alfredo Cardona, Sandberg’s speech was a “really touching story.” He added that it helped to establish the UC Berkeley community as a family.

Graduating senior Celeste Martore said she appreciated the personal touch given to the speech, as well as Sandberg’s perspective as a successful female leader.

“I thought it was nice how we had a woman speaker come in and advocate for underrepresented minorities,” Martore said.

Sandberg also spoke about prominent female graduates and their accomplishments at UC Berkeley, referencing the first class in 1873, comprising 167 men and 222 women.

“It is a 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,” Sandberg said.

Chancellor Nicholas Dirks also spoke at commencement, focusing on the significance of public universities for enhancing the public good, despite the increasing trend of state disinvestment across the country. Dirks urged graduates to be advocates for change and asked them to remain loyal to UC Berkeley and to “stay involved.”

“Overall, I liked commencement; I’m glad I went, because I was considering not going,” graduating senior Sabrina Rose said. “It made it more real that I’m graduating, because it’s easy to forget when you’re just going to classes.”

Contact Trevor Greenan at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @trevor_greenan.