“I once received a one-pound bag of coffee,” PostSecret founder Frank Warren said to the full house on Monday night’s PostSecret presentation. “The secret was on the back and it said, ‘For whatever reason, the place where I work at doesn’t take inventory. So, enjoy 16 ounces of our finest dark roast.’ I told that story not too long ago, and somebody called out from the back of the audience, ‘Did you try the coffee?’ I said, ‘No, it smelled great but I never tried it.’ He yelled back at me, ‘You should try the coffee!’ I asked, ‘Why I should try it?’ ‘Because I mailed it to you!’ You can never predict what will happen at a PostSecret show.”
Two microphones are set up on either side of the EMU Ballroom for people to have an open discussion with everybody in the room, or to tell some of their secrets if they’ve been moved by Frank Warren’s presentation. Slowly, lines begin to queue up behind them. Audience members begin to bear their hearts and expose their souls. Tear-streaked faces call out their regrets, their fears, their experiences with assault, their attempted suicides. And after every intimate disclosure, the crowd gives its generous applause.
“I’ve been to a lot of towns, and this one is pretty special. There’s a lot of emotion in this room, a lot of acceptance,” Warren said.
Due to the emotional nature of the event, counselors were standing by to give care to those shaken up relating to events in the presentation to their personal lives.
“PostSecret just started as this crazy idea that I’ve had. I always felt like I’ve had this rich interior life that I didn’t have the chance to share that much, and I wanted to create this nonjudgmental place online, create a space where people can create and share these inner stories,” Warren said. “There isn’t a direct connection to PostSecret and suicide. But suicide is an issue that has touched me deeply; I lost a friend to suicide. I knew that I wanted to use PostSecret not only as a source of revenue, but to raise awareness and raise funds for suicide prevention. And the volunteers of PostSecret have built the most complete and comprehensive suicide prevention resources in the world.”
The PostSecret presentation given by Frank Warren at the University filled not only the EMU Ballroom, but was livecast to rooms in the Columbia and Lillis buildings.
The on-campus event was the baby of Csea Leonard, a member of the LGBTQA, and Jennifer Dodge, vice president of the Panhellenic Council for Fraternity and Sorority Life.
“Last year, when I was the education and activism coordinator for the LGBTQA, I discovered that we really have limited suicide prevention here on campus. I felt that this would be a really good way to kick off discussing this issue more in-depth,” Leonard said. “This is something that we need, this is something that people want.”
“I have been affected by suicide. Two years ago, my cousin died, and ever since I’ve been interested in suicide prevention. This is something I’m really passionate about,” Dodge said.
After 15 months of near-fruitless searching, Panhellenic Council President Laura Hinman helped to secure financial backers.
“I’ve learned that we all have secrets, and everybody has at least one secret that’ll break your heart. And if you have that understanding you can have more compassion and more empathy … and I think it could create more peace in the world,” Warren said.
Warren started doing PostSecret by walking the dark streets of Washington and introducing himself to people. “Hello, my name’s Frank, and I collect secrets.” The postcard located on everybody’s chair in the EMU Ballroom read, “You are invited to anonymously contribute a secret to a group art project. Your secret can be a regret, fear, betrayal, desire, confession or childhood humiliation. Reveal anything as long it is true and you have never shared it with anyone before.”
Before long, Warren was getting more postcards than he could possibly imagine. They began to be homemade with art. He would receive naked Polaroids, or even a raw Idaho potato (the secret was scrawled upon it.)
With five books and countless posted secrets, Warren’s work continues strong. He takes fulfillment by sharing the various truths that resonate with him and with others.
After posting a secret with a homemade picture postcard depicting holes in a bedroom door as the result of a mother trying to break the door down to continue beating her daughter, many other similar posts followed.
“This brought up a truth that I had been hiding from for so very long. That I too was a child living in a home with holes in the bedroom door,” Warren said. “The children almost broken by the world become the adults most likely to change it.”