Yellen Tells Grads Grit Matters From Baseball to Monetary Policy

Janet Yellen, economics professor turned Federal Reserve chair, told graduates that success depends less on the “unfortunate myth” of ability and more on having the “grit” to persevere through setbacks.

“One aspect of grit that I think is particularly important is the willingness to take a stand when circumstances demand it,” Yellen said today in remarks prepared for delivery at New York University’s commencement. “Such circumstances may not be all that frequent, but in every life, there will be crucial moments when having the courage to stand up for what you believe will be immensely important.”

Speaking at Yankee Stadium, she said the venue’s history shows “you won’t succeed all the time.” She said even legendary former Yankees Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio “failed most of time when they stepped to the plate.”

She didn’t comment on current monetary policy or the U.S. economic outlook.

In her remarks, Yellen praised her predecessor Ben S. Bernanke for his “courageous actions that were unprecedented in ambition and scope” during the financial crisis.

“He faced relentless criticism, personal threats, and the certainty that history would judge him harshly if he was wrong,” Yellen said. “But he stood up for what he believed was right and necessary. Ben Bernanke’s intelligence and knowledge served him well as chairman. But his grit and willingness to take a stand were just as important.”

Career Ascent

Yellen also cited her own career path from junior Fed economist 37 years ago, saying what struck her when she first went to work at the central bank was the passion of her colleagues.

“And these many years later, each day at work, I see the importance of that passion to carrying out the Fed’s duties effectively,” she said.

Before becoming chair in February, Yellen’s two-decade career in public office included stints as the central bank’s vice chair, president of the San Francisco Fed, and chairman of Council of Economic Advisers under President Bill Clinton.

The 67-year-old Brooklyn native taught economics at Harvard University and the London School of Economics before joining the University of California at Berkeley faculty in 1980. She earned her undergraduate economics degree in 1967 at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and her doctorate in 1971 at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

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