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Ben Bernanke gives the best graduation address so far this season

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke at Princeton. Rich Schultz/AP Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke at Princeton. Rich Schultz/AP

Graduation season is wrapping up, and the best graduation address I've come across so far was from a man who usually doesn't get to speak so candidly.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke spoke Sunday at Princeton University's baccalaureate with a speech titled "The Ten Suggestions" that offered graduates advice on life after college. It was funny, surprisingly forthright, and revealing about the speaker—something far too many speeches never dare to do. Bernanke was careful to issue a caveat ("all of what follows has been road-tested in real-life situations, but past performance is no guarantee of future results"), perhaps because while some of the wisdom he shared was pretty familiar ("failure is an essential part of life and of learning") other commentary stood out for being pretty radical for an economist who chairs the Federal Reserve.

A few highlights:

On personal development: "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. ... If you are not happy with yourself, even the loftiest achievements won't bring you much satisfaction."

On success and meritocracies: "The only way for even a putative meritocracy to hope to pass ethical muster, to be considered fair, is if those who are the luckiest in all of those respects also have the greatest responsibility to work hard, to contribute to the betterment of the world, and to share their luck with others."

On respect for hard work: "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."

On leadership in Washington: "Honest error in the face of complex and possibly intractable problems is a far more important source of bad results than are bad motives. For these reasons, the greatest forces in Washington are ideas, and people prepared to act on those ideas."

Jena McGregor is a columnist for On Leadership.

Read also:

President Obama's graduation speech at Morehouse College

Tricky politics of the Obama graduation speech

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.



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Jena McGregor · June 3, 2013

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