For Wake Forest students, former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson today delivered an inspirational speech.
For media reporters, not much there.
Ever since Abramson was dumped last week as the top editor of the New York Times, her commitment as commencement speaker at the North Carolina university loomed as a moment. Perhaps she would swing back at her former boss Arthur Sulzberger Jr., who has been saying some awfully critical things about Abramson as part of a post-firing public spat that has besmirched the paper’s reputation for decorum. Perhaps she’d at least throw an elbow or two.
In a 12-minute talk, Abramson spoke to the gathered graduates about the wonders of resilience. “Now I’m talking to anyone who’s 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.”
She inventoried a number of examples of resilience: A New York Times reporter in China who’d been detained, and later returned to his work with gusto; Katharine Graham, the late Washington Post publisher who faced discrimination against women in her time; a woman whose son was killed by a taxicab, and she’s now doing activism to “make the streets safer”; Jim Risen, the New York Times reporter who’s now fighting an “unfair Washington leak investigation”; and Anita Hill, who “testified about sexual harassment before an all-white, all-male Senate Judiciary committee in the 1990s” and turned her “potential humiliation” into a career teaching law at Brandeis University and writing books. Hill reached out to Abramson with a message to say “she was proud of me” after her dismissal.
“We human beings are a lot more resilient than we often realize,” said Abramson.
As far as the Times itself, Abramson did a nice job of channeling the high road. She noted that a student had asked whether she would have her “T” tattoo removed. “Not a chance,” noted Abramson, who said that it’s been the “honor of my life to lead the newsroom.”
“What’s next for me?” said Abramson. “I don’t know, so I’m in exactly the same boat as many of you.” She joked that she’d booked a session with Andy Chan.