Yellen to grads: Embrace 'grit'

Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen urged college graduates Wednesday to embrace “grit” as they head out into the world.

In a commencement address to New York University, the nation’s chief economic steward urged graduates to focus more on hard work than innate ability as they head out into the world.

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“There is an unfortunate myth that success is mainly determined by something called ‘ability,’” she told graduates gathered at Yankee Stadium. “Psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth says that what really matters is a quality she calls ‘grit’ — an abiding commitment to work hard toward long-range goals and to persevere through the setbacks that come along the way.”

One key aspect of “grit,” according to Yellen, is the willingness to stand firm at critical times in the face of criticism. As an example of such a moment, Yellen praised her colleague, Ben Bernanke, for his handling of the financial collapse.

Bernanke, who stepped down from the Fed at the beginning of the year, faced “relentless criticism” and even personal threats for his efforts to keep the financial system afloat, she said. But his resolve for his preferred path was a critical component for the turnaround.

“Ben Bernanke's intelligence and knowledge served him well as Chairman. But his grit and willingness to take a stand were just as important,” she said. “I hope you never are confronted by challenges this great, but you too will face moments in life when standing up for what you believe can make all the difference.”

Yellen turned this notion on the Fed itself as well, saying that she and her colleagues have been determined to turn the economy around, even during setbacks. She acknowledged that not everything the Fed tried since the downturn was a success, but the overall mission never changed. She noted the commencement venue was apropos, as even baseball greats like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig failed more often than not when they stepped up to the plate.

“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,” she said.

Yellen also urged the new graduates to approach the world with consistent curiosity. In particular, she urged those gathered to seek out dissent often, instead of simply listening to voices that affirm already-held viewpoints.

“Listening to others, especially those with whom we disagree, tests our own ideas and beliefs. It forces us to recognize, with humility, that we don't have a monopoly on the truth,” she said.