By Jada Wong
Alexandra Sherman-Cross, a senior from Fayetteville-Manlius High School, stood at the microphone at the PostSecret presentation at Goldstein Auditorium in the Schine Student Center last night to tell 1,500 strangers that after 10 of her friends considered attempting suicide in her freshmen year of high school, she created “the wall” – a “sharpie and brick version of PostSecret.” Recently, one friend was hospitalized after a suicide attempt, she said, not holding back the tears. Strangers hugged her as she made her way back to her seat.
PostSecret, founded by Frank Warren, is an on-line mail art community in which people can send in anonymous postcards with their secrets. In 2005, Warren printed 3,000 postcards that were blank on one side and had contribution instructions on the other – reveal a secret, as long as it was true and hasn’t been told to anyone.
“After work, I would drive my car into the dark streets of Washington, D.C. and on the public sidewalks, approach strangers and solicit their secrets,” says Warren. He received many reactions, most of which were “I don’t have any secrets,” but Warren made sure those people took postcards – because they usually have the best ones, he says.
The site has received 300 million visitors since its debut and Warren has written five books with the most recent, “PostSecret: Confessions on Life, Death, and God,” becoming a #1 New York Times Bestseller.
Amanda Shaw, co-director of University Union Performing Arts (who co-hosted the event with the National Pan-Hellenic Council), was hopeful that all 1,500 tickets would be sold, and was grateful when they did.
“We got a lot of feedback when people first heard Warren was coming,” says Shaw, a junior child and family studies major. “As soon as people started emailing me that they were so excited to see that he was speaking here, I knew that this event would be successful. It’s cool that there are so many different people in this world and when they’re reading the books or secrets online, they can relate to a lot of them.”
Maybe it was the event’s topic of secrets, or that Warren’s earnestness earned him trust, or that Warren just had a calming effect on the audience, but when Warren talked, everyone listened. He kept the audience entertained as he explained that some postcards mysteriously arrive in his mailbox without a postage stamp (the mailers had written Warren’s mailing address as the return address). He told uncensored stories of his parent’s divorce, witnessing a close friend‘s suicide, and his lack of interest in his work until age 40. His raw anecdotes made the audience aww, gasp, laugh, and cry. He gave the audience realistic advice: there is always hope, but just not on the time schedule that we’d like.
Warren’s favorite part of the night was the chance for audience members to share their own secrets. As soon as he announced it was time, volunteers rushed to the microphones. Warren empathized with the audience as volunteers shared dark secrets that often ended mid-sentence and the sharer in tears. The audience was clearly moved by the volunteers’ secrets, some even getting up to hug the volunteers after sharing.
“It was really a once in a lifetime experience,” says Sherman-Cross. “You don’t know if you’ll be able to do it again.”
Michael Ryan, a freshman in the S.I. Newhouse School of Communications, attended the event out of curiosity, but was caught by surprise instead.
“I was surprised how many people came up and how deep their secrets were,” says Ryan. “I expected half of them to be jokes but everyone who went up took it seriously.”