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Life lessons: Jill Abramson at Wake Forest Commencement

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Jill Abramson-Wake Forest Commencement 2014.jpg

As we all know we are in the thick of Commencement season. Podium wisdom is being dispensed left and right over the course of these several weeks by distinguished elders, typically accomplished adults who have been there, done that and are sharing their hard earned life truths.    

But wait a minute - here's a distinguished elder who just got fired from her job, in a very public way, from a very presitigious and visible role. What would she have to tell us? 

I am talking, of course, about Jill Abramson, the former Executive Editor of the New York Times who was dismissed by Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. just prior to her scheduled appearance as Commencement speaker at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.

As Abramson told the assembled graduates and their families and friends, "What's next for me? I don't know. So I'm in exactly the same boat as many of you!'' Abramson also averred that "like you, I am a little scared, but also excited." 

Now, have you ever wondered why they call it "Commencement" when it is the very LAST thing you do in your entire college experience?  Why it is called a beginning when it is quite obviously an ending?

Well, because it is the beginning, the beginning of the rest of your life! And as Abramson learned and related, life doesn't quit, no matter what age or how accomplished or how celebrated you are. It keeps happening, keeps coming at you.

Unlike some of the other colleges that rescinded their Commencement speakers' invitations this season, Wake Forest kept their promise and followed through with Abramson, even though she had just been knocked off her high perch. Astute university President Nathan Hatch asked her to speak about the importance of resilience, and she did, quoting her father who, Abramson said, was less interested in how his daughters' dealt with their successes than how they dealt with their setbacks. That's when you have to "show what you are made of", Abramson's father told his children.

'''And now I'm talking to anyone who's been dumped," said Abramson, "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.''

Despite having recently swallowed such a bitter pill, Abramson was upbeat and told the audience that it was "the honor of my life to lead the newsroom" of the New York Times. That's keeping things in perspective.

I recommend that you take 11 minutes out of your life and watch Abramson's speech. And as you make your way on life's not-always-so-straight path, remember her advice. Things will not always go as planned or to your liking. And at those times, you will need to bounce back, to get up off the mat, to "show what you are made of." To paraphrase Abramson and her father, when life deals you a lemon, make lemonade.  

Photo: Courtesy Boston Globe / Jason Miczek / Reuters