Jill Abramson tells graduates: ‘I’m in exactly the same boat as many of you’

Of all the commencement speeches being given this year at high schools, colleges and universities across the country, this was the one that got all the attention.

Jill Abramson, the ousted executive editor of the New York Times, delivered the commencement speech today at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., her first public appearance since she lost her job last week. And she didn’t ignore what has become a big controversy for the newspaper.


Jill Abramson, who was ousted as the New York Times’ executive editor last week, delivered the commencement address at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. (Chris Keane/Getty Images)

Abramson had been scheduled to appear over the weekend at the Brandeis University commencement ceremonies to receive an honorary degree, but she pulled out of that late last week, the Boston Globe reported. She, however, decided to keep the commitment she had made to Wake Forest University, where she gave a commencement address that started out with this joke, according to the Associated Press:

“I think the only real news today is your graduation from this great university. I’m impressed that your achievements have attracted so much media attention.”

She addressed the controversy around her firing, saying:

“What’s next for me? I don’t know. So I’m in exactly the same boat as many of you.”

She did not speak to the specifics of her firing, which Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. was the result of her poor management skills and not complaints over unequal pay, as had been portrayed in some news reports. Abramson did say, however, that she admired women who had fought “discrimination” and that she would not remove a tattoo displaying the iconic “T” of the New York Times logo. Noting that she had been asked by a Wake Forest student whether she would get rid of it, she said: “Not a chance!”

Abramson said she had thought about pulling out of the commencement ceremonies because she didn’t want the attention taken away from the graduates — “the fabulous class of 2014″ — but she came anyway and dispensed this advice:

“You know the sting of losing or not getting something you badly want. When that happens, show what you are made of.”

The university’s president, Nathan Hatch, had said earlier that he thought Abramson was a perfect speaker for the commencement. In a statement released by the university recently, he said:

“I cannot think of a better message for the Class of 2014 than that of resilience.”  

Abramson was chosen to speak with the help of a panel composed of students, faculty and administrators.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · May 18