On Monday, Jill Abramson delivered the commencement address at Wake Forest University. Abramson committed to giving the address before she was fired from the New York Times on Wednesday, and it marked the first public speech the former editor-in-chief had given since her departure. A total of 1,900 members of Wake Forest's Class of 2014 were in attendance, along with a hoard of media in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The first female editor-in-chief of the largest metropolitan newspaper in the United States, Abramson's legacy is one of great accomplishment and unyielding perseverance, and the crowd certainly hoped to honor that — Wake Forest's students gave Abramson a standing ovation following her short speech.
Abramson began her tenure as editor-in-chief in 2011, and, for three years, led the paper to incredible growth, even as competing publications suffered declining sales and readerships. Under her leadership, the Times saw greater gender equality, as she made sure that half of the news masthead of the Times were women. The paper also moved into the mobile and digital age, and, in 2013, Abramson noted in a speech that "half of all traffic [came] from mobile devices." Her departure has drawn criticism of sexism in the media and journalism industry, and her speech at Wake Forest is sure to only increase the number of questions surrounding her departure. Still, regardless of the still-brewing controversy, Abramson kept things light, and proved that she can joke about her firing beyond a silly Instagram picture posted last week. Here are just a few chuckle-worthy comments from her speech:
Abramson then spoke to the new graduates about resilience, referencing the story we are all eager to hear about — her New York Times departure.
2. "Not a Chance."
Abramson, on whether she plans on getting that "Times T" removed.
3. "What's next for me? I don't know! So I'm in exactly the same boat as many of you."
"And like you, I'm a little excited," she followed up.
But, of course the speech wasn't all quips. Abramson also provided guidance to graduates while speaking out about her firing.
4. "Losing a job you love hurts… But this is work I will remain very much a part of."
Abramson, on the difficulties of a career and the workplace.
5. "Graduating from Wake Forest means all of you have experienced success already. But some of you — and now I’m talking to anyone who has been dumped … not gotten the job you really wanted or received those horrible rejection letters from grad school. You know the sting of losing, or not getting something you badly want. When that happens, show what you are made of."
That last phrase became a rallying cry of Abramson's speech.
6. "Try all different things."
Something she will undoubtedly do from here.
And also appeared to hint at sexism in the workplace, referencing Anita Hill, the attorney who faced media scrutiny after accusing Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment in 1991.
7. "I co-authored a book about Anita Hill who testified about sexual harassment before an all white, all male senate judiciary committee … the senators portrayed her as being, as one of her detractors so delicately put it, a little but nutty and a little bit slutty’ ... She turned that potential humiliation into a great career."
And, as she added, “Anita is one of the people who wrote me last week to say they are proud of me.”
Abramson's speech was surprisingly short, and featured a tasteful balance between her own recent trials and her advice to the graduating class. Her speech was marked by her sense of humor and her grace, and never did she suggest any negative feelings towards her former employers. Though she recognized the difficulties of losing a job, and relayed that message to the Class of 2014, Abramson managed to keep the spotlight away from her and instead focused on the new graduates. Her anecdotes did not seem to seek attention, but were instead used as lessons for the graduates. Last week, the university's president, Nathan Hatch, said in a statement, "I cannot think of a better message for the Class of 2014 than that of resilience." And today, Abramson delivered that message in true editor-in-chief style.