So Jill Abramson, Abraham Lincoln, and Robert Frost walk into a bar…

In her commencement speech to the Wake Forest University Class of 2014, Jill Abramson advised graduates to “get on with [their] knitting.”

Poet Robert Frost also gave a commencement speech in which he deemed “life after graduating as pieces of knitting to go on with” to Colby College graduates in 1956. Drawing upon Frost’s influence, Abramson described life as “unfinished business, like the bits of knitting women used to carry around with them, to be picked up in different intervals.”

Abramson was renowned as executive editor of The New York Times for just under three years. She was also ranked fifth on the Forbes list of most powerful women. Although recently ousted from her position at the Times, the journalist’s words to Wake Forest were nothing short of powerful, especially in times of facing adversity.


Jill Abramson, former executive editor of The New York Times, was a prime candidate and role model of resilience for Wake Forest University’s graduating Class of 2014. Photo courtesy of Neill Redmond, AP Photo, The Washington Post.

“We human beings are a lot more resilient than we often realize,” she said, listing reporters Nan Robertson of The New York Times and Katherine Graham of The Washington Post as revered emblems of resilience. “They both faced discrimination,” she said, “and they went on to win Pulitzer Prizes.”

Her own resilience shined through her positive attitude despite her dismissal. She showed no signs of bitterness, but rather regarded her leadership of the Times as “the honor of my life.”

Abramson empathized with members of the audience, speaking to those that had experienced any hardships. She advised them to “show what you are made of” any time rejection occurs or success is compensated.

Although unmentioned, the words of Abraham Lincoln also resonated with Abramson’s advice. Lincoln once stated, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

In telling the Class of 2014 to show what they are made of, Abramson underlined that they are resilient, “brilliant” individuals that can stand such adversity and have the potential to persevere.

She also highlighted that as students graduating from a university with the caliber of Wake Forest, “you have experienced success already,” and therefore a position of great power.

Power, she said, can be taken away in a flash and in different forms, from rejection letters to being fired. If Lincoln’s words rang true, so did Abramson’s in that the next step is to give even more than a best foot forward. “It meant more to [my] father to see [me] deal with [my] setback and try to bounce back than to watch how [I] handled [my success],” she said.

Abramson is evidence that although power is not eternal, resilience has the potential to be. Her message was that resilience is very much possible, but that as the world of life after graduation is an open door of “unfinished business,” it is time to dust off the knitting needles and start casting off the loose edges.

For more coverage of Abramson’s commencement speech, see the video and read along.


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