Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg Tells Grads They Will Be Defined By How They Survive Adversity

She gave the commencement speech at the University of California at Berkeley.

ByABC News
May 16, 2016, 9:12 AM

— -- Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg spoke publicly for the first time about her husband’s unexpected death in a poignant commencement speech at the University of California at Berkeley on Saturday.

“I’m not gonna tell you today what I learned in life. Today, I’m gonna try to tell you what I learned in death,” Sandberg began. “I’ve not spoken about this publicly before, and it’s hard, but I’ve promised not to blow my nose on this beautiful Berkeley robe.”

She shared with the students how she’s learned to persevere even in the face of tragedy after losing her husband, Dave Goldberg, last May.

“When life sucks you under, you can kick against the bottom, find the surface and breathe again,” she said, drawing applause from the audience. “The question is not if some of these things will happen to you. They will. What I want to talk about today is what you do next."

Sandberg, 46, shared lessons with the graduates of bouncing back from life’s toughest times.

“You will be defined not just by what you achieve, but by how you survive,” she explained.

She said she survived on hard-earned wisdom.

“Eleven days before the anniversary of Dave's death, I broke down crying to a friend of mine,” she recalled. “And then through tears, we asked each other how we would live if we knew we had 11 days left … I mean live with the understanding of how precious every day would be, because that's how precious every day actually is.”

Sandberg urged the graduating students to “lean in” to find hope and joy.

"Losing my husband helped me find deeper gratitude -- gratitude for the kindness of my friends, the love of my family, the laughter of my children,” she said, choking back tears. “My hope for you is that you can find that gratitude, not just on the easy days like today, but on the hard ones, when you will need it.”

Sandberg also told the graduates to "be there for your family and friends. And I mean in person. Not just in a message with a heart emoji."

Sheryl Sandberg is a member of the board for Disney, the parent company of ABC News.