PostSecret’s Frank Warren encourages students to share secrets

Emily Lin-Jones

On Friday, Nov. 18, Whitman students were greeted with a blank index card in their mailboxes along with a note urging them to write down a secret and submit it to WEB’s annual PostSecret Gallery Show. This year the show coincided with a lecture on Wednesday, Nov. 30, by Frank Warren, creator of the original PostSecret website.

Warren created the project in 2004 with the idea of strangers mailing in anonymous secrets written on postcards, which he then posted in batches on his website. Today Warren’s blog is one of the most visited blogs in the world and has inspired countless spin-off projects.

Senior Charlie Weems, the lectures director of WEB, thought that students would respond well to the interactive nature of Warren’s talk.

“We got a lot of responses last time that Dan Savage was really great, and Frank Warren does the same style of Q&A lecture about issues that students don’t generally get to talk about at Whitman,” he said. “I think students are lectured at enough as it is. People spend their entire week in class where the professors are lecturing to them, so it’s nice to get someone that they know of to talk to them and do a really interactive presentation that’s not just a traditional lecture.”

Warren’s lecture did indeed have a substantial interactive portion. Warren began the lecture by sharing the history of the project, explaining his motivation for starting it while displaying and reading aloud several of the most memorable secrets he has received over the years.

“Sometimes we think we’re keeping a secret, and it’s really keeping us,” Warren said. “It could be undermining our relationships with other people. It could be blocking us from being who we truly are.”

Afterward, audience members were invited to stand up to share their own secrets aloud in front of the crowded hall with themes ranging from abuse to nit-picky habits.

In addition to the lecture, community members have been given a chance to interact with PostSecret through the PostSecret Gallery show located in Reid Campus Center’s Stevens Gallery.   Interested members are invited to write their secrets on note cards and allow their secrets to be hung anonymously in the gallery until the show closes at the end of winter break.

“The PostSecret Gallery [show] has always been really well-received on campus. I think people find it really fascinating,” said Assistant Director of Student Activities Leann Adams.

The gallery show has been held at Whitman several times in the past. Sophomore Julia Maxwell, one of WEB’s creative arts directors, said that the decision to continue the show each year was influenced by the results of a student survey.

“[WEB] got a lot of feedback about wanting the PostSecret

Credit: Faith Bernstein

show [to] come back again because [people] thought it was really cool. It just so happened that Frank Warren was coming to lecture, so it seemed like a good time to have it,” she said.

Maxwell said she was pleased with the community’s response to the gallery.

“It’s doing pretty well. A lot of people have put up their secrets, which is exciting. It’s really cool to see Whitman be involved in that,” she said.

Much like the content of Warren’s site, the confessions are hugely varied in tone and style. “Sometimes I pee in the shower,” one proclaims, while another begins “I was molested at the age of 13 . . . ” Some cards are carefully decorated with crayon and photographs, while others are just a few words scrawled in pen.

Senior Sam Alden, co-director of creative arts for WEB, noted that the project can function much differently on a college campus than it does when submissions are accepted from around the world.

“I don’t think that you could guess who any of the people are, but I’m sure that in writing the secrets you have to be a lot more cautious in order to remain anonymous. I think, a lot more than the writing of it, it affects they way they’re read. When you read the secrets on the internet, they’re interesting only in themselves as secret,” he said.   “Something that PostSecret can do within the context of a small community that doesn’t always feel comfortable talking about things is to allow things to come to the surface and allow you to understand the people around you better.”

Warren himself acknowledged the benefits of PostSecret enacted on a smaller scale.

“At a display like [the Stevens Gallery show] it’s much more meaningful for students to know they might be reading secrets from their dorm mate or their classmate or someone they sit across from in the cafeteria and have lunch with,” he said.