Jill Abramson
10:23 pm
Mon May 19, 2014

Professional Disappointments Not the End, Abramson Optimistic

Despite being abruptly released from her top management position at The New York Times last week, Jill Abramson shared an upbeat, focused outlook with 2014 graduates at Wake Forest University.

Jill Abramson, the former executive editor of The New York Times, delivered the commencement address at Wake Forest University on Monday. The event was her first public appearance since being dismissed from the newspaper last week. Her speech titled “The Importance of a Truly Free Press” was well received by the audience.
Jill Abramson, the former executive editor of The New York Times, delivered the commencement address at Wake Forest University on Monday. The event was her first public appearance since being dismissed from the newspaper last week. Her speech titled “The Importance of a Truly Free Press” was well received by the audience.
Credit Paul Garber

Monday morning in Winston-Salem, former New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson delivered the keynote address at the 2014 graduation ceremony of Wake Forest University (WFU). It's the first time she has spoken since being fired from the Times. She held the post from September 2011 until this month.

She began by giving a shout out to all parents and adults who nurtured, encouraged and supported the more than 1,800 graduates. Then she turned her comments to those who have been "dumped" and referenced being fired by the New York Times. “Losing a job you love hurts," said Abramson. "But the work of journalism that holds powerful institutions and people accountable is what makes our democracy so resilient. This is the work I will remain very much a part.” Abramson also talked about her father who emphasized that it was just as important to show what one is made of at times of disappointment as it is at times of success.

Last Wednesday, the paper’s publisher, Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr., fired Abramson.  According to the websites of several media outlets, the breakup occurred because Sulzberger believed Abramson misled him and chief executive Mark Thompson during her effort to hire a new co-managing editor. They cite two sources with knowledge about the termination. Other accounts say Abramson complained her salary was not equal to that of her predecessor.

Many WFU graduates, including John Ho, agreed Abramson’s experience is encouraging in the face of their own uncertainty. "It really resonates with me about bouncing back from failures and she’s a remarkably successful woman despite what’s happened recently,” said Ho. Parris Jarmon liked Abramson's sense of humor. “She’s still resilient despite everything that’s happened to her, said Jarmon. "She can joke about it, so that’s good.”  

Abramson told the audience she has received letters and calls of encouragement from colleagues, friends and family. She also emphasized human resilience and recognized three of her professional heroes as examples of this characteristic. "Nan Robertson is a ground breaking reporter of the New York Times. Katharine Graham is the publisher of the Washington Post, which broke the Watergate story. They both faced discrimination in a much tougher more male dominated newspaper industry. They went on to win Pulitzer Prizes. My colleague, Jim Risen, who is standing up against an unfair Washington leak investigation, is another hero,” said Abramson.

She said she doesn't know what she'll do next, but Abramson drew laughter as she noted, "I’m in exactly the same boat as many of you. Like you, I’m a little scared but also excited.” In closing, she compared life to the unfinished business of knitting that can be picked up at any time and added to.  She urged graduates to "get on with your knitting".