Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said he wouldn’t presume to teach soon-to-be graduates of Princeton University about the Ten Commandments.
Instead, Bernanke today shared with seniors “ten suggestions.” Not one of them focused on low interest rates, an inflation goal or unorthodox monetary easing -- the usual topics of the Fed chairman’s speeches. All of the recommendations dealt with life after Princeton.
“My qualification for making such suggestions, or observations, besides having kindly been invited to speak today by President Tilghman, is the same as the reason that your obnoxious brother or sister got to go to bed later,” Bernanke said, speaking at the school’s Baccalaureate Address at the invitation of Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman. “I am older than you.”
Bernanke, 59, taught at Princeton from 1985 to 2002, when he left to join the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. His leave from the university officially expired in 2005, the same year he became President George W. Bush’s economic adviser and just before he became Fed chairman in 2006.
Among Bernanke’s observations to the seniors: life is unpredictable, those with the greatest gifts also have the greatest responsibilities, and, while money matters, satisfaction matters more.
“Most of us would agree that people who have, say, little formal schooling but labor honestly and diligently to help feed, clothe and educate their families” deserve respect and sometimes help, he said in remarks prepared for a speech in Princeton’s University Chapel. “They’re more fun to have a beer with, too. That’s all I know about sociology.”
Cynicism is a “poor substitute” for constructive action, he told the students, and politicians in Washington are mostly trying to do the right thing.
“If you think that the bad or indifferent results that too often come out of Washington are due to base motives and bad intentions,” he said, “you are giving politicians and policy makers way too much credit for being effective.”
Bernanke, who has been married to his wife, Anna, for 35 years, told the students that choosing the right partner is crucial. So is calling “mom and dad” once in a while, he said.
“Congratulations, graduates,” he concluded. “Give ’em hell.”