Jill Abramson surprises graduates in her Wake Forest University Commencement speech.

Jill Abramson surprises graduates in her Wake Forest University Commencement speech.

Just this moment I finished listening to a live stream of recently sacked, New York Times Editor, Jill Abramson as she gave the commencement speech at Wake Forest University.

Abramson is a no frills kinda gal who spoke frankly and with warmth. Her speech was clearly written on the fly, with extra bits and antedotes added earlier this morning. She wore no makeup, she hadn’t had her hair coifed. She was real and unmasked, showing the graduates what real tenacity, bravery and grace under pressure looks like. She showed them what is underneath all the masks and prettied-up versions of ourselves most people put on when we’re in public, especially up on stage. Abramson showed her real self, not only to those on the campus of Wake Forest University today, but to the world. She’s had a hungry media circus following her around for a week waiting for some big statement or emotional breakdown – and you can bet all the cameras were zoomed in close enough to show even the slightest increase of moisture in her eyes. Ms. Abramson walked the tightrope beautifully, neither ignoring the fact that everyone was waiting for her to say something about being fired from one of the most prestigious jobs in the world, or making light of the fact that it was important that the graduates were the real star today, not her.

I want to spend some time now reflecting on a few of the nuggets of wisdom Ms. Abramson shared.

–      When you are doing what you most believe in it makes you fearless… in even the most dire of circumstances.

–      It’s not the successes in your life that will show you what you are truly made of… it’s the failures. It’s what you are able to do the morning after getting dumped by your lover, not getting the job (or being fired from your dream job). It’s getting the rejection letter from the publisher or from graduate school. It is these moments that show you where your strengths are… and who your cheerleaders and real friends are.

–      Jill said, “It was the honor of my life to lead the newsroom of the New York Times.” She shared a conversation she’d had with a Wake Student the night before who knew she had some tattoos. They asked her if she was going to remove the blue “T” tattooed on her back. She said with enthusiasm, “Not a chance!”

–      “What’s next for me?” Abramson said. “I don’t know. Which means I’m in exactly the same boat as many of you. (laughter from both Abramson and her audience) I’m a little scared but also excited.”

Abramson was very clear that she will remain in journalism. It’s a higher calling for her and the place where she can have the most impact in bettering and protecting our world. I hope some of the people watching and listening today in person, or in remote corners of the globe, will be heartened to stay on their true paths, even when the path gets rocky and stormy.

I was very happy to hear Abramson speak so much about her family, especially her father and her sister. She shared antedotes about conversations this past week with her friends, her sister, her children. Clearly she knows how to lead and live like a strong, grounded woman. In my book that means having grown, cultivated and nurtured a wealth of loving relationships, both at work, at home and out in the greater world.

Abramson ended her speech with a quote from Robert Frost about knitting. Let me say that again. One of the most powerful people in world, who spends every day in a truly male-dominated environment, who has just been fired with all kinds of speculation about sexist discrimination, with anti-feminist stereotypes flying freely… this woman talked about knitting in her first public appearance after the big sack. How brave and how perfect. Her mother was a knitter, dammit she loves Frost’s metaphors about how your life is like “pieces of knitting to go on with.”

Go Jill! I wish I could pay you twice as much as any editor or CEO on the planet and have you run MyBridges’ fantasy newsroom. I absolutely can, not, wait to see what you do next. And this week, while you have a little down time to ponder what you want your next adventure to be, I hope you knit a kick-ass sweater.

Cheryl A. Schirillo

Wake Forest University Campus after Jill Abramson surprises graduates in her Wake Forest University Commencement speech.