As Frank Warren took the stage in the Marshall Student Center Ballroom on Tuesday night, the All American Rejects’ music video for the song “Dirty Little Secret” played on the screen in the background.
The video was significant for Warren, he said, because it was the first time his art project and blog had ever been featured in a video that received millions of views.
For audience member Noelle Park, a junior majoring in anthropology who had waited in line for the 8 p.m. lecture since 3:30 p.m., it was significant because watching the video in 2006 was the first time she had heard about PostSecret and Warren’s work.
Warren, the sole curator and founder of the blog/art project PostSecret, posts anonymous postcards he receives from strangers all across the world to his website every Sunday.
Described as “the most trusted stranger in America,” Warren traveled to USF as part of the Center for Student Involvement’s University Lecture series and spoke to students about the power of secrets, both shared and kept.
“Secrets can be transformative,” he said. “They can change who we are if we find the courage to share them with ourselves or with others. Also, secrets can be trapping. Often we think we are keeping secrets, but sometimes they are keeping us.”
Before creating his blog in 2004, Warren, who received $17,500 for his lecture at USF, began by asking strangers on the streets of Washington D.C. to share their stories with him on notecards.
“Some people did,” he said. “Some people told me they didn’t have secrets, and those were probably the people I wanted to talk to the most.”
After the street soliciting didn’t work very well, Warren turned to blogging and having people send in postcards anonymously to his home address. After a few months and a few thousand views, Warren said he received his first heart breaking postcard: a picture of a broken door.
“The holes are from when my mom tried knocking down my door so she could continue beating me,” it said.
That day, Warren said a million people visited the website.
“I started getting emails and pictures from other young people telling me their stories and sending me photos of their broken doors,” he said.
It was then that Warren said he realized he had memories of the broken doors of his own childhood. It was also then he realized the power of secrets.
After speaking about his experiences running PostSecret and sharing some of his own secrets, Warren showed students a few postcards that couldn’t be published in his newest book entitled “PostSecret: Confessions on Life, Death and God.” He called them “secret secrets.”
“Many of these couldn’t be shared because of copyright laws, but some of these the publisher was just afraid would get the book censored,” he said.
The “secret secrets” contained everything from pictures of nipples to postcards mentioning suicide printed on copyrighted images.
Like much of his blog, Warren focused the body of his lecture on suicide prevention.
He informed students of the statistics of suicide and its prevalence on college campuses. He said last week, during Suicide Prevention week, the PostSecret community raised more than $50,000.
“We know that by the stigma around suicide and the stereotypes surrounding mental illness can prevent students from getting the help that they truly need,” Warren said.
He also advised students of actions they can take if they know someone who is considering suicide or self-harm.
“Talking and sharing, that’s the key,” Warren said. “People who are struggling with those feelings want permission to share what they are going through. They want to talk about it, but they know it’s taboo. If you have a suspicion, just ask.”
He encouraged students struggling with these problems to keep hope.
“There is hope,” he said. “It just doesn’t come on the time scale we want it to.”
After his lecture, Warren asked willing audience members to share one of their own secrets.
Park, who had camped out in line for almost five hours to hear him, quickly ran to the back of the room to make sure she was in line to share a secret.
She shared a personal secret with everyone in the room, one she said she had never shared with anyone before. Though she later said she did not wish to have the secret printed in The Oracle, being able to get it off her chest was one of the nicest feelings she’s ever had.
“I know that’s so vague, but it really was,” she said. “I can’t really describe the relief of finally getting to share it.”