Jill Abramson, the ousted executive editor of the New York Times, gave the commencement speech at Wake Forest University monday and she did not shy away from referring to her firing from the newspaper last week. In her speech, Abramson did not comment on allegations her termination was connected to a confrontation she had with management after discovering she was paid less than her male predecessor, but she did vow to “remain very much a part” of the journalism industry. However, Abramson said she does not have specific plans yet.
“What’s next for me?” Abramson asked the audience of graduates. “I don’t know, so I’m in exactly the same boat as many of you.”
Abramson also discussed the future of her New York Times logo tattoo, which has been the subject of intense speculation since her firing became public last Wednesday. She said a Wake Forest student asked her Sunday night whether she would remove the tattoo in light of her departure from the paper and she gave a three word answer:
“Not a chance!”
Abramson, who described heading the Times newsroom as the “honour of my life,” began her speech with a quip about the media circus that has surrounded her since her exit from the paper.
“I think the only real news today is your graduation from this great university,” said Abramson. “I’m impressed that your achievements have attracted so much media attention.”
She went on to say her “only reluctance in showing up” was the fear the increased attention surrounding her speech would “detract attention from you, the fabulous class of 2014.”
Abramson noted her sister called her the day after she was fired to tell her their father would be “as proud” of her as he was the day she became executive editor in 2011. She continued by addressing everyone who has “been dumped,” “not gotten the job,” or was rejected from the grad school of their choice.
“You know the sting of losing or not getting something you badly want,” Abramson said. “When that happens, show what you are made of .”
Abramson’s firing has received unusual attention after a series of reports after her departure implied her ouster was connected to her dispute over not receiving equal pay. Times management has repeatedly denied there was an issue with Abramson’s pay. Since then, other reports have emerged attributing her exit from the Times to her handling of an attempt to hire a managing editor. On Monday morning, New Yorker reporter Ken Auletta, who broke the news of Abramson’s pay dispute, appeared on the Today Show and declared, “I don’t think this is a case of sexism.”
In her speech, Abramson referenced her admiration for various women who have faced “discrimination.” She did not discuss her alleged confrontation with the Times about her salary.
She concluded by referencing the poet Robert Frost’s 1956 commencement speech at Colby College where he used “knitting” as a metaphor for various intellectual pursuits and questions he encouraged the graduates to take on in their professional lives. Abramson, whose handling of the digital aspects of the Times has been examined extensively following her firing, joked that today’s students might better understand Frost’s points if she used Tumblr as a metaphor rather than knitting.
“Today, you gorgeous, brilliant people, get on with your knitting!”