Jill Abramson addressed Wake Forest University’s graduating seniors on Monday, along with the “small media circus” she says has been following her around since her abrupt ousting from the New York Times last week. Though she praised the Times highly, Abramson said she drew inspiration from several other women who endured and overcame sexist discrimination.
Abramson, whose departure ignited allegations of sexism at the Times, drew parallels between her own situation and that of Anita Hill, the law professor who faced viciously sexist attacks after accusing Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.
“I co-authored a book about Anita Hill who testified about sexual harassment before an all white, all male senate judiciary committee…the senators portrayed her as being, as one of her detractors so delicately put it, a little but nutty and a little bit slutty’,” Abramson noted, yet “she turned that potential humiliation into a great career” and continued to speak truth to power.
“Anita is one of the people who wrote me last week to say they are proud of me,” she added.
Watch the speech:
The former executive editor also referenced her “three heroes” who faced discrimination in an even more male-dominated media: “Nan Robinson, a groundbreaking reporter of the New York Times, and Katharine Graham, the publisher of Washington Post, which broke the Watergate story. They both faced discrimination in a much tougher more male dominated newspaper industry, and they went on to win Pulitzer prizes.”
Yet Abramson also related her own struggle to obstacles facing the graduates before her. “I’m talking to anyone who’s been dumped, not gotten the job you really wanted, or received those awful rejection emails from graduate schools,” she said. “You know the sting of losing or not getting something you badly want. When that happens, show what you are really made of.”
“What’s next for me? I don’t know. So I’m exactly in the same boat as many of you,” Abramson concluded. “And like you, I’m a little scared but also excited.”
Abigail Bessler contributed to this post.