THE BLOG

The Commencement Speech Jill Abramson Should Have Given

05/28/2014 09:29 am ET | Updated Jul 28, 2014
  • Greg Schwem Corporate comedian, Business emcee, Author, 'The Road to Success Goes Through the Salad Bar"

The close of May brings with it so many iconic images: warm thermometer readings, blooming foliage and a long line of college graduates who stride across stages nationwide to accept diplomas, snap selfies and solemnly move tassels from right to left, symbolizing the transition from "college student" to "unemployed and living with parents."

College graduation ceremonies also include a bevy of politicians, movie stars and business titans, who deliver stirring commencement addresses while receiving honorary degrees. The degrees are "honorary" only because it is not necessary to attend a single class to receive one; University of Alabama football players all receive honorary degrees. Also, only actual degrees can be redeemed at campus bars in exchange for three Jell-O shots.

No commencement speaker received more attention this year than Jill Abramson. Just days after being sacked as executive editor of the stalwart New York Times, Abramson stood before graduates of Wake Forest University to congratulate them on their entry into the cold, cruel world. Abramson took the high road, using humor to discuss her employment status and gamely deflecting attention from herself even though her speech was covered by, in her words, "a small media circus."

Personally I think Abramson missed a great opportunity. She needs a job and what better way to sell yourself than to address an audience of parents who shelled out approximately $200,000 to send their sons and daughters to Wake Forest, a prestigious Atlantic Coast Conference institution that, contrary to its name, is not a school simply for insomniacs and tree enthusiasts. Certainly there had to be a couple of CEOs in that crowd. So rather than simply telling the grads about resilience and imploring them to "show what you are made of," Abramson should have led by example. Like this:

"Thank you distinguished Class of 2014, faculty, alumni, honored guests and hopefully head hunters. They have allotted me 15 minutes to speak but I may go longer because, let's face it, I really don't have any pressing engagements."

"By now you probably heard that I was recently fired from my previous job. Hey, it happens. I don't plan to be unemployed for long. And you shouldn't either. Today getting a job isn't about how high your GPA was or where you studied overseas or how many Habitat for Humanity homes you constructed in El Salvador. No, it's about having an awesome social media presence and a pleasant on-camera demeanor so you look good when being interviewed via Skype. If my new friends on the audio visual crew--who I handed 50 bucks to prior to my speech--can put my updated LinkedIn page on the big screen, you'll see what I'm talking about. There it is. Look at that! Now everybody knows that I attended Harvard. Again, that's HARVARD for those of you with obstructed views."

"A couple of students I was talking to last night know that I have some tattoos. One of them asked me, "Are you gonna get that Times 'T' that you have tattooed on your back removed?" And my answer is and will always be, "It depends on my next employer's tattoo policy. I can have my entire body scrubbed clean in an hour. Just say the word."

"Unlike myself, a, ahem, SUCCESSFUL FEMALE JOURNALIST, AUTHOR AND EXECUTIVE, you are just entering the job market. But don't forget that you have already accomplished so much. Remember to always mention your triumphs to a perspective employer. You'll be surprised how easy it is to sneak into a conversation something as simple as, 'I presided over a 1000-plus staff of reporters, editors and photographers that won eight Pulitzer prizes on my watch.' See? It just rolls off the tongue."

"Remember it's a cutthroat world out there. Look around. The person sitting to your left, to your right, or even behind this podium, may be competition for that job you so crave. And at least one of them will crush you like an ant should you choose to get in her way."

"Until that day arrives, party hearty and go Demon Deacons!"

Copyright 2014 Greg Schwem distributed by Tribune Content Services, Inc.