Standing at the podium at Yankee Stadium for NYU’s commencement Wednesday, Janet Yellen was inspired. Not by the 27 championships and history of greatness and fantastic, unceasing ability to print money, which is, by right, her job. Instead, the first woman to head a major central bank looked at the 66% of the time Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig didn’t get a hit, to ignominious choke-jobs in decade-old playoff series, perhaps even to the travails on Steve Cohen’s new drinking buddy, dug deep, and told the 22 year-olds to get ready for failure.
Yankee Stadium is a natural venue for another lesson: You won’t succeed all the time. Even Ruth, Gehrig and DiMaggio failed most of time when they stepped to the plate. Finding the right path in life, more often than not, involves some missteps. My Federal Reserve colleagues and I experienced this as we struggled to address a financial and economic crisis that threatened the global economy. We brainstormed and designed a host of programs to unclog the plumbing of the financial system and to keep credit flowing. Not everything worked but we kept at it, and we remained focused on the task at hand. I learned the lesson during this period that one’s response to the inevitable setbacks matters as much as the balance of victories and defeats.
And NYU’s newly-minted graduates, who cheered wildly for Yankees great and now honorary NYU Ph.D Mariano Rivera, immediately obliged the Fed chief by failing to have the first clue about who she was.
Some 8,000 New York University students streamed into Yankee Stadium to receive their diplomas Wednesday. They may have been getting degrees from an elite private college, but all that schooling didn’t seem to help them identify their commencement speaker: Janet Yellen.
Many had never heard of Yellen. And as for the Federal Reserve, that might as well have been a nightclub in the East Village as far as some of these graduates were concerned….
As for Yellen, when asked about the role of the Federal Reserve, one female graduate said, “I object. I object to the interview.” Another young man replied, “I suppose we’d have to read some more literature before we give an appropriate response.” And as Yellen said in her speech, do the best you can when you are faced with the unexpected.