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Abramson Jokes, Sidesteps Controversy In Wake Forest Speech

Days after her firing from The New York Times, former Executive Editor Jill Abramson steps into the spotlight to speak to Wake Forest's graduates.
Posted at 3:10 PM, May 19, 2014

​​Former New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson delivered Wake Forest University's commencement address Monday morning shortly after her highly publicized firing. 

Unfazed and jovial at times, Abramson knew a "media circus" would follow her to the North Carolina campus, but she wanted the attention to fall on the graduates. She did use her situation as a guide for the speech, saying: (Via The New York Times)

​​"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. This is the work I will remain very much a part of." (Via Wake Forest University)

These were her first public remarks since she was fired from the Times last Wednesday. Fellow journalists waited in the wings for any details about Abramson's abrupt resignation tucked into her speech.  

In case you missed it, a New Yorker multipart editorial last week spoke with anonymous sources who said Abramson was let go in part because she inquired about unequal pay based on her gender.  

This set off a series of opinion pieces by male and female journalists alike about the state of gender favoritism in the industry and what really happened to The New York Times' first female executive editor. (Via Forbes, Vox, New Republic)

Then, over the weekend The New York Times rebuked the accusations, saying Abramson was fired because of "arbitrary decision-making, a failure to consult and bring colleagues with her, inadequate communication and the public mistreatment of colleagues.

At Wake Forest Monday, the media waited to hear her address the elephant in the room. But Abramson took the high road and let the chance to publicly take a jab at her former employer slip by.  

"It is such an important and irreplaceable institution, and it was the honor of my life to lead the newsroom." (Via Wake Forest University)

However, Abramson would go on to give anecdotes about "resilience." She named her heroes, who, perhaps by coincidence, stood in the face of gender discrimination, including Pulitzer Prize winners Nan Robertson and Katharine Graham as well as Anita Hill. (Via C-SPAN)

The Washington Post points out it would have been easy for Abramson to cancel her speech and bow out of the spotlight, but Abramson's appearance days after the controversy was a lesson in itself for Wake Forest's 1,800 graduates.

"Abramson showed up, and she was game. The example she set of coming and doing what was asked of her even when she might not have felt like it is Adulthood 101 in that working world."

Abramson was also slated to speak at the Brandeis University commencement this week but backed out of the speech. University President Frederick Lawrence said Abramson said she "did not want to be part of the celebratory nature of the ceremony."