Fired Editor Jill Abramson Tells Graduates: 'Show What You Are Made Of'

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Jill Abramson, former executive editor of The New York Times, waves as she speaks at the commencement ceremony at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem,N.C., on May 19, 2014.NELL REDMOND / AP

Jill Abramson, fired last week as executive editor of The New York Times, encouraged a group of college graduates Monday to use disappointments in their lives to “show what you are made of.”

In a commencement address at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, Abramson said that she did not know what was next for her but suggested that she would not stray far from her last job. They were her first public comments since her ouster.

“Losing a job you love hurts,” she said. “But the work I revere, 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 of.”

She joked that she wasn’t unlike the newly minted graduates.

“What’s next for me? I don’t know,” she said. “So I’m in exactly the same boat as many of you! And like you, I’m a little scared, but also excited.”

Abramson also resolved speculation over what she would do about a tattoo of the signature Times “T” logo on her back. She said that she had been asked by a Wake Forest student whether she would have it removed.

“Not a chance,” she said.

The remarks were her first in public since Abramson, the first woman to lead the newspaper, was dismissed last week after less than three years on the job.

Her supporters have said that she was treated unfairly because she is a woman. The New Yorker magazine reported after the firing that Abramson was paid 10 percent less than her predecessor, Bill Keller, when she took the job.

Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher, said this weekend that Abramson’s pay was “not in fact unequal.” In a statement, he cited “arbitrary decision-making, a failure to consult and bring colleagues with her, inadequate communication and the public mistreatment of colleagues.”

Abramson was succeeded by Dean Baquet, the first black executive editor in the paper’s history.

In her speech at Wake Forest, Abramson said that among the people she has heard from since her firing is Anita Hill, the law professor who accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during his Supreme Court confirmation proceedings in 1991.

Hill wrote to say that she was proud of Abramson, she said.

Abramson closed by citing a commencement address given by Robert Frost in 1956, in which he described life after graduation as “pieces of knitting to go on with.”

“My mother was a great knitter, and she made some really magnificent things, but she also made a few itchy, frankly hideous sweaters for me,” Abramson said. “She left some things unfinished. So today, you gorgeous, brilliant people, get on with your knitting.”

— Erin McClam