Published Monday, May 19, 2014 | 7:20 a.m.
Updated Monday, May 19, 2014 | 8:04 a.m.
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — In her first public appearance since her dismissal from The New York Times, former executive editor Jill Abramson compared herself to a new college graduate: "scared but also a little excited."
"What's next for me? I don't know. So I'm in exactly the same boat as many of you," Abramson told the Class of 2014 at Wake Forest University's graduation ceremony on Monday, to laughs and applause.
The Times announced last week that Abramson was being replaced by managing editor Dean Baquet. Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. has denied reports that Abramson's dismissal had to do with complaints over unequal pay or the company's treatment of women. Instead, he cited Abramson's newsroom management style.
In her speech, Abramson focused on a theme of resilience, talking briefly about her time at the helm of The New York Times but not directly addressing her dismissal. She said that she didn't want the "media circus" following her to take attention away from the graduates.
"It was the honor of my life to lead the newsroom," she said, describing the risks Times journalists take to report the news.
"Sure, losing a job you love hurts, but the work I revere — journalism that holds powerful institutions and people accountable — is what makes our democracy so resilient. This is the work I will remain very much a part of."
Abramson said students had asked her whether she would remove her tattoo of The Times' 'T.'
"Not a chance!" she said.
Among her journalism heroes, Abramson listed former New York Times reporter Nan Robertson, who wrote a book describing the fight for workplace parity by the newspaper's female employees, and former Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham.
"They faced discrimination in a much tougher, more male-dominated newspaper industry. And they went on to win Pulitzer Prizes," Abramson said.
Abramson also invoked the memory of her father, who said it meant more to him that she and her siblings dealt with their setbacks than their success.
"It meant more to our father to see us deal with a setback and try to bounce back than to watch how we handled our successes," Abramson said. "'Show what you are made of,' he would say. Graduating from Wake Forest means all of you have experienced success already. And some of you — and now I'm talking to anyone who's been dumped, not gotten the job you really wanted, or received those horrible rejection letters from grad school — you know the sting of losing or not getting something you badly want. When that happens, show what you are made of."