What’s your secret? Honesty is PostSecret’s best policy

(U-WIRE) “Hi, my name’s Frank, and I collect secrets,” Frank Warren said to a packed ballroom.

Warren’s admission was no surprise to the nearly 800 students at the lecture event sponsored by the University of Maryland.

While the anonymous, secret-baring postcards were met with emotional reactions from the crowd, people truly seemed to get involved after Warren began inviting members of the audience to share their own secrets, which varied from amusing to intense.

Warren is the mastermind behind online blog sensation PostSecret, an idea he first thought up in 2004, he said. The online art project allows anyone to anonymously send a secret on a postcard to Warren’s Germantown address. He then selects the postcards he feels are the most powerful — Warren said he receives around 1,000 a week from places such as Texas, Brazil and Afghanistan — and posts them on his blog. The site’s popularity has vaulted Warren to the No.-14 spot on a list of most influential people on the Internet, according to http://www.forbes.com.

And students were all eyes — and ears — during Warren’s presentation, which included the video for the All Americans Rejects’ song “Dirty Little Secret” and a slideshow of ‘secret secrets,’ admissions so controversial that publisher Harper Collins chose not to include them in any of the four anthology books they have published of PostSecrets.

People came from all over the Washington metropolitan area to hear Warren speak, creating a line that snaked down the hallway of the student union and filled the entire upper level of the building.

“He’s especially popular because he’s from Germantown,” said Kaitlyn Oliva, public relations director for SEE. “I know a lot of people who check his site religiously.”

Yet the air of excitement changed to one of intensity when Warren asked students and other attendees to confess their secrets at a central microphone.

“It’s always more interesting when secrets come from the audience,” Warren said.

The first student to speak cut a deal with Warren in which both would have to share their secrets. In response to the student’s demand to “make it good,” the fleece-sweater clad Warren replied, “My wife picked out my clothes.”

Other students shared similarly light-hearted admissions. One student revealed stealing silverware from a dining hall, while another student disclosed she often pretends to be British so guys will buy her drinks at bars.

“It just takes practice in your room to get the British accent,” claimed the student.

But not all admissions were so amusing. Students shared personal information, including stories of a terminally-ill father, cheating boyfriends, a painkiller-addicted mother and a past of sexual abuse. Some students even broke into tears during their admissions.

The secrets’ reality hit home for many students and attendees, as audience members cheered and applauded their classmates and neighbors.

“It’s so cold outside, but it’s so warm [in this room],” Warren said.

Students who stuck around for the last portion of the event, which included a 20-minute slideshow and an opportunity for attendees to get their books signed by Warren, said the opportunity was a unique event.

“I was really shocked by the things people shared,” said Hillel staff member Leah Newman. “I’m still dealing with it.”

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