When Wake Forest University was gearing up for its commencement ceremony on Monday, it was prepared for any last-minute changes. So said Katie Neal, the executive director of the university’s communication department, after a photo on Twitter showed the commencement program updated with Jill Abramson’s new title: “Former Executive Editor” of the New York Times.
Since the news of Jill Abramson’s firing was announced on Wednesday, the university had less than a week to prepare for what would effectively be Abramson’s first public appearance after her sudden dismissal. Luckily, the university always sends its commencement programs to the printer on the Friday afternoon before the Monday ceremony, in case anything comes up.
“There was plenty of time to include the word 'former' before Ms. Abramson's title before they went to print. There were no reprints, and thus, no additional cost,” Neal told International Business Times.
Just 1,880 students received their diplomas at Wake Forest’s commencement on Monday. But with more than 10,000 people attending the ceremony, a live stream of Abramson’s speech posted online by major news outlets and a gaggle of journalists covering the event with the trending hashtag “WFUGrad” – Wake Forest’s commencement had a ton of eyeballs on it.
Even the Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty poked fun at the media circus surrounding what would have otherwise been a subdued graduation event.
— Karen Tumulty (@ktumulty) May 19, 2014
Quotes from Abramson’s speech lit up social media within seconds of her uttering them, shared mostly by reporters reacting to the shakeup that rattled the media world last week.
When news first broke that Abramson – the first female executive editor of the New York Times -- was fired after less than three years on the top job, rumors began to circulate about the reasons. The New Yorker reported that Abramson was fired after she complained about a gender pay gap, a charge that the Times refuted. Others have described her difficult managerial style as the cause. While Abramson and the Times initially agreed not to discuss the details of her firing, Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. broke his silence with a statement Saturday describing how Abramson lost support from her senior management colleagues.
"I concluded that her management of the newsroom was simply not working out," he wrote in the statement. "During her tenure, I heard repeatedly from her newsroom colleagues, women and men, about a series of issues, including arbitrary decision-making, a failure to consult and bring colleagues with her, inadequate communication and the public mistreatment of colleagues."
Other than a brief statement she made at the time of her dismissal and her latest appearance at Wake Forest University, Abramson has remained silent about the details behind her dismissal, which is one reason reporters were drawn to Winston-Salem, North Carolina -- hoping to see what Abramson would say.
Her speech focused on resilience in the face of “soul-scorching loss," the most quotable moment coming when she said, “Some of you, and now I’m talking to anyone who’s been dumped, not getting the job you really wanted, or gotten those rejection letters from grad schools, you know the sting of losing, or not getting something you really want. When that happens, show what you are made of.”
Below are Twitter reactions to Abramson’s commencement speech:
— John Paton (@jxpaton) May 19, 2014
A deft, heartfelt and witty speech from Jill Abramson draws to a close with the words "get on with your knitting".
— Ravi Somaiya (@ravisomaiya) May 19, 2014
— Karen Tumulty (@ktumulty) May 19, 2014
Have been friends more than 40 years with @JillAbramson; never prouder of that than this morning. "Courage is grace under pressure."
— Richard Tofel (@dicktofel) May 19, 2014
BRAVO Jill Abramson. With dignity, humour & feeling you showed Wake Forest grads how to adopt resilience in face of 'soul-scorching loss.'
— Christiane Amanpour (@camanpour) May 19, 2014
Jill Abramson gets a standing ovation from Wake Forest students after finishing her commencement speech pic.twitter.com/LFJINdIHpf
— Seth Fiegerman (@sfiegerman) May 19, 2014
Media thick at Wake Forest: N.Y. Times. WSJ, Reuters, WaPo, POLITICO, Melissa Harris-Perry here for MSNBC
— Dylan Byers (@DylanByers) May 19, 2014
Media self-absorption rate is off the charts this morning. MT @jennifersaba 735 media reporters now watching Wake Forest livestream
— Michelle Malkin (@michellemalkin) May 19, 2014
735 media reporters now watching Wake Forest live stream graduation
— jennifer saba (@jennifersaba) May 19, 2014
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) May 19, 2014
Follow @ravisomaiya for the blow by blow on Jill Abramson's commencement speech. My prediction: she will be charming and classy.
— Lydia Polgreen (@lpolgreen) May 19, 2014