Shared Secrets in the EMU Ballroom

-Jessica Ridgway

By 5:30 p.m., a huge line of students stood waiting on the upper floor of the EMU. The line started at the base of the grand stairs and wrapped back towards the ticket office. By 6:30 p.m. the end of the line was parallel with the beginning. What was so exciting last Tuesday evening that had a plethora of students, faculty, and community members coming together in simultaneous anticipation?

The answer is Frank Warren, the founder of the ongoing community art project and website, PostSecret. And I will shamelessly admit that I was one of those eager people waiting to meet and hear from the man that changes lives.

Warren started PostSecret on a whim in 2005. He handed out blank postcards addressed to his mailbox to strangers on the street. The postcards read: “You are invited to anonymously contribute a secret to a group art project. Your secret can be regret, fear, betrayal, desire, confession or childhood humiliation. Reveal anything—as long as it is true and you have never shared it with anyone.”

Warren’s spontaneous project exploded from that moment, and he now has millions of postcard secrets. Each Sunday he posts about 20 postcards on the PostSecret website; if PostSecret were a religion, I would consider myself a practicing follower. The website has created an entire “PostSecret community” where individuals can come together to discuss the secrets—giving hope and inspiration to those with more somber secrets, and allowing people to realize they’re not the only ones with silly confessions, like peeing in the shower.

The lecture took place in the EMU ballroom and was packed from front to back. The audience was majority female with a few males present, either there by choice or dragged along by a significant other. I took a seat towards the back and wiggled back-and-forth in my seat, impatiently waiting for his appearance.

He took his place on stage, opened up his lecture with a basic introduction and shared a few postcard samples—both silly and sentimental. And while the audience cooed and the girl next to me wiped tears from her eyes, I sat in silent disappointment. I had already heard this lecture, practically word-for-word, from Frank Warren’s TED Talk.

But, the experience was still delightful because Warren (despite his practiced lecture) still personalized it for the Eugene audience. He discussed how PostSecret has donated large sums of money to Hopeline, a non-profit suicide prevention organization, and announced Active Voice, the new campus organization educating others about mental illness and suicide prevention. He also introduced an Oregon alum, Robert Fogarty, who started an inspirational website like PostSecret called Dear World.

The lecture closed with audience members stepping up to microphones and sharing their personal secrets. Some secrets were funny childhood stories, but others were deeper, heartbreaking confessions that took a lot of courage to reveal to a ballroom full of strangers.

The most pivotal moment for me, as a passionate PostSecret fan, was uncovering Warren’s secrets. I now feel more connected to this inspiring man who taught me not to hide from my past, but to welcome my struggles as blessings in disguise.

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