The 5 Biggest Lessons From Sheryl Sandberg’s Inspiring Commencement Speech

Words to learn from and live by.

Sheryl Sandberg delivered a stirring commencement speech to Virginia Tech graduates on Friday morning full of personal stories, lessons she’s learned and advice even those of us who graduated from college years ago should take to heart.

Sandberg spoke about her experience of finding resilience in the face of heartbreaking loss. Two years ago her husband Dave died unexpectedly, prompting her, as she told the crowd, to “hit the books. With my friend Adam Grant, a psychologist who studies how we find meaning in our lives, I dove into the research on resilience and recovery. The most important thing I learned is that we are not born with a certain amount of resilience. It is a muscle, and that means we can build it.

The Option B author emphasized how essential community is to both succeeding in life and persevering in trying times. “None of us get through anything alone,” she said. “We get through it together.” Sandberg called this collective resilience, a shared strength we cultivate by supporting one another.

She shared how prior to the death of her husband, she was reluctant to ask people for help. In fact, she said she viewed it as “bothering” people. “But then my life changed and I needed my friends and family and colleagues more than I ever could have thought I would,” she said. “I had never felt weaker. But I learned that it takes strength to rely on others. There are times to lean in and there are times to lean on.”

In this case, leaning in can mean doing what feels uncomfortable when the people that matter to you are suffering — you have to talk about what they’re going through. “We retreat into silence just when we need each other the most,” Sandberg said. She urged the graduates to “Be there for your friends and family. And I mean in person — not just in a message with a heart emoji.”

Towards the end of her speech, Sandberg teared up while telling the graduates, “When tragedy or disappointment strike, know that deep inside you, you have the ability to get through anything. I promise you do. As the saying goes, we are more vulnerable than we ever thought, but we are stronger than we ever imagined.”

Read the full transcript of Sandberg’s speech here.