Recently fired New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson told Wake Forest University’s graduating class Monday that she believes in the human capacity for resilience — and that she won’t be removing her tattoo of the New York Times “T” logo despite her unceremonious and controversial dismissal last week.
Abramson’s speech was titled “The Importance of a Truly Free Press,” but its focus was coming back from hard times — and to “get on with your knitting,” she concluded, whatever the adversity.
Abramson said that when Wake Forest graduates asked her if she would remove her Times tattoo, her response was: “not a chance.”
Bloomberg columnist and Wake Forest graduate Al Hunt introduced Abramson. “It is said she could be tough, no nonsense, even pushy in her passionate commitment to truth and accountability, no matter rank or party — that is what makes her a good editor,” he said.
Abramson did not address specifics of her firing from the job she described as “the honor of my life,” but did give vague hints of her future plans.
“Sure, losing a job you love hurts, but the work I revere, journalism that holds powerful institutions and people accountable, is what makes our democracy so resilient.” she said. “This is the work I will remain very much a part of.”
“What’s next for me? I don’t know, so I’m in exactly the same boat as many of you,” she joked. “And like you, I’m a little scared and excited.”
Her speech began with a few jokes about the heightened level of media attention around her first public appearance since being fired. “I think the only real news here today is your graduation from this great university,” she said. “I’m impressed that your achievements have attracted so much media attention, as they should.”
She also told the graduates, specifically the ones who “knew the sting of losing,” that in the face of disappointment, you must “show what you’re made of.”
In an aside, Abramson said that the subject of her book Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill, wrote her a note last week to say that she was proud of her.
Many wondered if Abramson would show up to give the address in the wake of her firing, but Wake Forest quickly confirmed her appearance.
“I cannot think of a better message for the class of 2014 than that of resilience,” Wake Forest President Nathan Hatch said. “Jill Abramson’s accomplishments speak for themselves, and I am confident she will have an inspiring and timely message for our graduates.”
Abramson’s daughter Cornelia Griggs teased Abramson’s speech Sunday night with an Instagram post showing her mom learning how to walk again after getting hit by a car in 2007. “My mother showed me she could walk again. Tomorrow she will show ‘em what she’s made of…again,” the picture was captioned.
Abramson was also slated to receive an honorary degree from Brandeis University in Boston Sunday but did not attend.