Sheryl Sandberg addressed the graduating class of 2017 at Virginia Tech’s commencement this morning armed with one central theme: resilience.
Sandberg knows a thing or two about resilience, having unexpectedly lost her husband David Goldberg two years ago while they were traveling on vacation in Mexico together. Since then, the Facebook COO and Lean In author’s life has changed forever, and she has spoken candidly, including to Refinery29, about her grief process and how she plans to move forward.
It takes strength to speak out and turn your attention outward, rather than on the pain, during a time of grief. But that’s exactly what Sandberg has done since, by founding her organization OptionB.Org, which helps communities build resilience in the face of adversity. She has also co-authored a book called Option B, which is part memoir and part manual. Virginia Tech is just one of the communities where she has recently spoken — and it’s fitting that she would come to Blacksburg, given that this year marks the 10-year anniversary of the shooting on the university’s campus, during which a gunman killed 32 people and wounded 17.
During her speech, Sandberg alluded to the Virginia Tech massacre — “And then there are the shared losses. The Virginia Tech community knows this” — but never spoke about the specifics.
Instead, she focused on positive topics, like the importance of building collective resilience.
Be there for your friends and family. And I mean in person — not just in a message with a heart emoji. Even though those are pretty great, too.
“We build resilience into ourselves,” she said. “We build resilience into the people we love. And we build it together, as a community. That’s called ‘collective resilience.’ It’s an incredibly powerful force — and it’s one that our country and our world need a lot more of right about now.”
She spoke about the importance of using shared narratives to fight injustice and create social change. As part of her Lean In organization, she has founded more than 33,000 circles in 150 countries in which small groups discuss how to take steps toward gender equality. Not too long ago, she was in Beijing, where she met women from Lean In circles across China. In China, if you’re unmarried past the age of 27, you’re called a sheng nu — a “leftover woman.”
“The stigma that comes from being a leftover woman can be intense,” Sandberg said. “One woman — a 36-year-old economics professor — was rejected by 15 men because — wait for it — she was too educated. After that, her father forbade her younger sister from going to graduate school.”
One of China’s Lean In circles addressed this lingering stigma by creating a play called The Leftover Monologues, which celebrates being “leftover” and tackles often taboo topics like sexual harassment, date rape, and homophobia. That’s where the importance of building narratives together comes in, said Sandberg: “The world told them what their stories should be, and they said, ‘Actually, we’re writing a …