Jill Abramson's Commencement Speech: "Show Them What You're Made Of"

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Less than a week after Jill Abramson was unceremoniously ousted as executive editor at The New York Times, she took the podium to speak at Wake Forest University's commencement this morning. While her speech did little to subdue the speculation surrounding her departure (and was at times a little stilted and awkward), it was ultimately a moving, funny demonstration of how to overcome setbacks with grace. 

"I'm impressed your achievements have attracted so much media attention—as well they should," Abramson said in her opening lines, referencing the row of reporters who showed up to the graduation. The speech simply got better from there. Here are our favorite quotes from her address. 

1. "Some of you—and now I'm talking to anyone who's been dumped, not gotten the job you really wanted, or have received those horrible rejection letters from grad school—know the sting of losing or not getting something you badly want. When that happens, show them what you are made of."

Part of being an adult is showing up, even when it's the last thing you feel like doing. (Here I'm reminded of the Mindy Kaling quote: "Sometimes you just gotta put on your lip gloss and pretend to be psyched.") Abramson's a perfect example of that. She didn't cancel, even though she could have, and she didn't make the speech entirely about herself, even though the media has essentially done that instead (whoops).

2.  "My mother was a great knitter, and she made some really magnificent things, but she also made a few itchy, frankly hideous, sweaters for me. She left some things unfinished. So today, you gorgeous, brilliant people...get on with your knitting."

Anyone who's ever tried to learn a new skill or create something meaningful knows that there's always a period of time—that gap when you're trying to get from okay to good to great—where your work is actually terrible. It's totally normal, and it's easy and understandable to want to throw in the towel. Remembering that you'll eventually get there (wherever that may be) is the hard part. 

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3. "What's next for me? I don't know! I'm in the same boat as many of you. And like you, I'm a little scared, but also excited."

Okay, she's not exactly in the same boat as the class of 2014, but her point is a good one: Everyone is scared at some point in their life, but fear doesn't have to be the enemy. It's how you handle it and what you do with it that matters.

Catch her entire speech in the video below and then tell us: What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us @Shape_Magazine!

 

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