In front of a sold out Alumni Hall last night, Frank Warren of PostSecret shared secrets he’s been mailed over the years with the Penn State community, and invited others to share their own secrets. He was one of the speakers in this year’s Distinguished Speakers series through the Student Programming Association.
Some people in attendance claimed to have traveled from at least three hours away to see him speak. However, before he started his presentation, he ran into a bit of trouble with the microphone. “Give me some help or I’m gonna start tap dancing!” This was not the first time he has run into mic issues either, as later on in the evening, he shared a secret that was mailed to him that said, “Your mic wasn’t off during sound-check. We heard you pee!” Thankfully, that wasn’t the case last night.
The idea for PostSecret was sparked back in 2004 when Warren printed out 3,000 postcards with instructions on what to do, as well as with his home address, and distributed them to people at night in Washington, D.C. He wanted people to share their secrets with him. Even if they told him that they did not have any secrets, he still made sure to give them a postcard, just in case.
“It was just a slow trickle at first, but soon more and more came,” Warren said, about the flow of secrets going into his mailbox. He had no idea how big the project would be when it first started. By asking people to mail secrets directly to his house, he felt that he was able to establish a “relationship of trust” with complete strangers, and be completely vulnerable.
The secrets that he receives tend to be quite dark, but Warren feels fortunate that complete strangers trust him with their deepest, darkest secrets. He is known as the “most trusted stranger in America,” after all.
Many of the secrets come from young people, like college students. One of the reasons why Warren enjoys speaking at colleges and universities is because he loves sharing with that particular audience. His second book, My Secret, is a book that he wishes he had when he was in his high school and college years because it focuses on the secrets that many young people have sent to him.
However, not every secret makes it onto the PostSecret site or into the books. Since 2005, only three or four secrets have been discarded; one was an accident because his wife thought it was a shopping list. If secrets don’t make it into the books, it is because there is some sort of a copyright issue. He also has two rules for submitting secrets: no blood, and no glitter. Secrets with those will most likely be tossed or not seen at all.
Warren told the audience that sharing a secret can be transformative. “Sometimes we could be keeping a secret that’s keeping us,” he said.
He pointed out two types of secrets: secrets that we hide from other people and secrets we keep from ourselves. Some time after starting the project, he realized part of the reason he began distributing postcards to the people of D.C was because he went searching for his own secrets, too.
Many of us are on a journey to find that one person with whom we can share our secrets. This is the second most common secret that Warren sees mailed to PostSecret. The postcards could be the only opportunity a person has to out his or her secret, and in doing so, could connect to others who might share the same experience. Interestingly enough, the Hebrew word for secret means “to come closer.”
To lighten up the mood a little, he showed a secret with some clip art on it that was about a woman who occasionally “forgot” to wear underwear around her uptight co-workers. After seeing the secret, he said, “Now, whenever I see clip art, I always imagine that they’re not wearing clip art underwear.”
Warren then went into a discussion about suicide, which is the most preventable form of death in the nation.
“Sometimes it’s the smallest things we do that make the biggest difference in someone’s life,” he said. Just by saying, “Hey, how are you doing?” could be enough to save someone’s life. In fact, in the 8-year history of PostSecret, the community has banded together to donate nearly one million dollars for suicide prevention and awareness.
“There is always hope, but it sometimes doesn’t come on the timetable we want it to,” said Warren.
Emotions were high during this part of his presentation. They only became more intensified when he played an audio clip of various voicemails that people saved from loved ones who had passed away. It goes to show that we are not alone.
“Our secrets connect us. We just can’t see the invisible network,” said Warren.
Before allowing members of the audience to share their secrets, Frank shared a testimony. He said the PostSecret project has helped him become more sensitive, compassionate, and protective.
“Whatever struggle you may have right now in your life, whatever that struggle is, know this: if you can get through the darkness to the light with medication, God, music — whatever it is — on the other side you’ll be transformed. You’ll be closer to the person you’re supposed to be, doing the work you are supposed to do.”
One lucky audience member was given a book at the start of his presentation, where he hid some words of wisdom. “The world needs to hear your voice,” is what was written on the inside cover of the book.
In the end, the one thing that he wanted people to take away from his presentation was that “we are all part of something bigger and we’re all part of it together.”