October 18, 2015

‘Most Trusted Stranger in America’ Reflects on PostSecret’s Beginnings

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Known as the “the most trusted stranger in America,” Frank Warren — creator of the popular blog PostSecret — spoke at Bailey Hall Friday about how he got people from all over the world to send him their secrets and even shared a few with the audience.

Warren started PostSecret in 2004 in Washington, D.C. as a community art project where he handed out postcards to strangers and asked them to send in their secrets anonymously so that he could post them on his website. His site, which went viral in a short period of time, has received over 500 million hits from people looking at secrets from all over the world.


Frank Warren, the founder of the blog PostSecret, speaks to Bailey Hall Friday. (Jason Ben Nathan / Sun Staff Photographer)

“I knew that if I could really earn the trust of strangers to share their deepest secrets with me, [it would be] something really special,” Warren said. “I didn’t expect that almost instantly, millions of people would respond to it so strongly. I’m just glad to be a part of it and I feel very fortunate that people do trust me with those deep confessions that seem to offer relief to the person sharing and inspiration to the person reading.”

Warren reflected on the early days of PostSecret, saying that every Sunday, he would post the secrets he received for that week.

“It wasn’t too much longer after I started handing out the postcards that this crazy idea stopped feeling so crazy,” he said.

Warren said the secrets he receives are varying. While some he shared with the audience were met with laughter — such as “I feel guilty when I take elevators for one floor so I limp when I get out” — others were much more serious.

Written on the back of a photograph of a broken bedroom door, one secret said, “The holes are from when my mom tried knocking down my door so she could continue beating me.”

He then read one response to the broken bedroom door secret that said, “Seeing all these pictures of broken bedroom doors, it doesn’t depress me because all this time I thought I was the only one, and just knowing there are other people out there like me who share my secret, it doesn’t make my secret go away, but it makes my burden feel just a little bit lighter.”

Warren highlighted the event in the context of Mental Health Awareness Week, which aims to fight the stigma of using mental health resources on campus, and used the opportunity to talk about suicide.

“Suicide is one of America’s secrets,” he said.

He went on to say that you never know when the small things you do can make the difference in a person’s life.

The event continued with people coming up to microphones to share their secrets or stories. Some people shared humorous secrets, while others seemed relieved to get secrets off their chests. Some were moved to tears sharing their secrets.

“If you ever feel like you’re alone on campus and there’s no place to turn, [that] there’s no hope, there’s no help, you’re wrong,” Warren said. “There is help, there is hope right here on campus, and if you want, you can be a part of that.”

Warren’s talk was the first in a series of events during Mental Health Awareness Week, which will continue until Friday with events such as the “Stomp Out Stigma” photo campaign.

“I think the main thing is normalizing the fact that students do seek resources on campus,” said Angelica Cullo ’17, large events coordinator for Cornell Minds Matter, which co-sponsored Warren’s talk. “We’re going to have statistics at a lot of our events in an effort to educate the community that your peers are seeking these resources and it’s okay for you to too.”

2 thoughts on “‘Most Trusted Stranger in America’ Reflects on PostSecret’s Beginnings

  1. So, you have been taught to say there is a stigma to mental illnesses, as others were taught to say there is a stigma to rape.

    Confront the lesson and overcome it. Do not continue to be a part of teaching it.

    Neither be a victim of that prejudice, nor a victimizer through it.


    Cornell started posting median grades on transcripts during Spring 2009 for the Class of 2012 that matriculated Fall 2008. From Spring 2009 forward, median grades were excluded from transcripts for Class 2011 and prior, and included for Class 2012 and after. Cornell’s infamous suicide cluster occurred during Fall 2009 and Spring 2010 – immediately following implementation of the new transcript policy. A mere coincidence?

    To quote the article above, “Faculty members have been told to be especially sensitive to students’ needs and “to help put the academic rigor that we know is part of Cornell in proper perspective,””

    Should Cornell do a little more than advise faculty? Is it time to terminate the practice of posting median grades on official transcripts?

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