Free Advice from Fed Chairman


Advice from Ben Bernanke
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke outlines “Ten Suggestions,” one of the best, brightest commencement speeches you’ll hear this year. Listen up.

Discussion Ideas

  • Commencement speeches are given to graduating students. Universities often invite important leaders to give advice to the graduating class. Read other outstanding speeches here. (I’ll add this one.) Why do students think Princeton University invited Ben Bernanke to give the commencement speech this year?
  • Although Bernanke is an economist, he quotes everyone from Forrest Gump to the Gospel of Luke in his speech. Why do students think Bernanke draws from such a wide range of sources?
    • Bernanke is addressing hundreds of graduates representing many different fields of study. His references are recognizable to almost everyone, although the speech is peppered with sly references to the financial world. (“Past performance is no guarantee of future results.”)
  • Walk through Bernanke’s ten suggestions with students:
    • 1. “Don’t be afraid to let the drama play out.” Are students’ lives what they thought they would be five years ago? How are they different?
    • 2. “Whatever life may have in store for you, each of you has a grand, lifelong project, and that is the development of yourself as a human being . . Will you keep learning and thinking hard and critically about the most important questions? Will you become an emotionally stronger person, more generous, more loving, more ethical? Will you involve yourself actively and constructively in the world?”
    • 3. “We have been taught that meritocratic institutions and societies are fair.” Are students familiar with the concept of of a meritocracy? How does what Bernanke calls luck—social status, financial status, family status—influence what we consider “merit”? Do students agree with Bernanke’s quote from St. Luke, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required”? Bill Gates, another economic force to be reckoned with, does. At a 2007 commencement speech at Harvard University, Gates remembered the advice from his mother: “From those to whom much is given, much is expected.”
    • 4. “I think 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 are deserving of greater respect—and help, if necessary—than many people who are superficially more successful. They’re more fun to have a [beer] with, too.” Do students agree? Why or why not? Why do students think this might have greater resonance at Princeton, one of the most elite schools in the world?
    • 5. “[T]he greatest forces in Washington are ideas, and people prepared to act on those ideas.” Do students agree? Why or why not?
    • 6. “Economics is a highly sophisticated field of thought that is superb at explaining to policymakers precisely why the choices they made in the past were wrong. About the future, not so much.” Do students think Bernanke is being modest? Why or why not?
    • 7. “[I]f you are part of the lucky minority with the ability to choose, remember that money is a means, not an end.” What do students think Bernanke means here? What groups of people (the majority, if we follow Bernanke) do not have the ability to choose?
    • 8. “If your uniform isn’t dirty, you haven’t been in the game.” Read our article on the learning process of National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and Oscar-winning filmmaker James Cameron. Watch our video on Nobel Prize-winning scientists stumbling into success. How have students learned from past failures or mistakes? 
    • 9. “I can’t imagine any choice more consequential for a lifelong journey than the choice of a traveling companion.” Besides “beauty, romance, and sexual attraction,” what qualities do students look for in friends or romantic partners?
    • 10. “Call your mom and dad once in a while.” ‘Nuff said.

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