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Chairman of the Federal Reserve and former chair of the University’s Department of EconomicsBen Bernankereturned to campus 11 years after he left the faculty to speak to the Class of 2013 at Baccalaureate and make observations based on his experiences on everything from potential career paths to future romances.

In her introduction, University President Shirley Tilghman described Bernanke as open and fair-minded, traits that not only “won him the deep respect of colleagues” with diverse political views but also enabled him to “rise above the partisan fray in the service of both a Republican and Democratic president.”

Tilghman also described him as “one of the nation’s foremost monetary economists” whose leadership during the 2008 financial crisis has led to a “weak but palpable recovery.”

“As each of you prepares to put your education to good use, in the service of this nation and all nations, you could not do better than to look to Ben Bernanke, who has combined in his career the best elements of academic and public life,” she said. “We are proud to call him one of Princeton’s own.”

Bernanke joined the University’s faculty in 1985 and chaired the Department of Economics from 1996 to 2002. He is the current chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Bernanke began by advising seniors to remember that “life is amazingly unpredictable.”

“Any 22-year-old who thinks they know where they will be in 10 years, much less in 30, is simply lacking imagination,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to let the drama play out.”

Whatever the seniors choose to pursue, Bernanke advised them to accept what comes.

“If you are not happy with yourself, even the loftiest achievements won’t bring you satisfaction,” he said.

One of the reasons that accomplishments may not always lead to true happiness, according to Bernanke, is that meritocracies are not as fair as they seem to be and cannot achieve “absolute” fairness.

“A meritocracy is a system in which the people who are luckiest in their health and genetic endowment; luckiest in terms of family support, encouragement and, probably, income; luckiest in their educational and career opportunities and luckiest in so many other ways difficult to enumerate — these are the folks who reap the largest rewards,” he said.

Regardless of the rewards, Bernanke said the people seniors should look up to are those who work hard and try their best and, if need be, are most deserving of help.

“Those most worthy of admiration are those who have made the best use of their advantages, or alternatively, coped most courageously with their adversities,” he said.

Turning to the current state of politics, Bernanke defended policy makers and politicians in Washington, D.C.

“Most of our politicians and policy makers are trying to do the right thing, according to their own views and consciences, most of the time,” he said.

“If you think that the bad or indifferent results that come out of Washington are due to base motives and bad intentions,” he said, joking, “you are giving politicians and policy makers way too much credit for being effective.”

He credited most of the adverse results to “honest error in the face of complex and possibly intractable problems.”

Bernanke further advised seniors to remember that “money is a means, not an end,” and that “failure is an essential part of life and learning.”

“If your uniform isn’t dirty, you haven’t been in the game,” Bernanke said.

Turning from work and careers, Bernanke even dished out romantic advice for the seniors.

“Remember that physical beauty is evolution’s way of assuring us that the other person doesn’t have too many intestinal parasites,” he said.

Although physical attraction and beauty are important, Bernanke advised the seniors instead to look for someone with whom they could undertake a lifelong journey.

“Speaking as somebody who has been happily married for 35 years,” he said, “I can’t imagine any choice more consequential for a lifelong journey than the choice of a traveling companion.”

Finally, Bernanke advised the members of the Class of 2013 to call their parents once in a while, a comment that drew the biggest round of applause from the family members sitting on the lawn.

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