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Yellen, at NYU commencement, hails Bernanke's courage and resilience during 2008 crisis

Mariano Rivera receives an honorary doctorate degree at a New York University graduation ceremony Wednesday, May 21, 2014, at Yankee Stadium in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

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Mariano Rivera receives an honorary doctorate degree at a New York University graduation ceremony Wednesday, May 21, 2014, at Yankee Stadium in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

NEW YORK, N.Y. - Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen paid tribute Wednesday to the man she succeeded three months ago, saying Ben Bernanke demonstrated the grit that was needed to stabilize the financial system and restore economic growth.

Yellen told graduates at New York University's commencement that Bernanke's response to the 2008 financial crisis and the Great Recession showed the courage it takes to stand up for principles.

Bernanke faced "relentless criticism, personal threats and the certainty that history would judge him harshly if he was wrong," Yellen said at the ceremony at Yankee Stadium.

"You, too, will face moments in life when standing up for what you believe can make all the difference," Yellen said.

"There is an unfortunate myth," she told the graduates, "that success is mainly determined by something called 'ability.'"

In fact, she said, research shows that measures of ability are unreliable predictors of performance in academics or employment. Instead, she said, what's more important is a quality that psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth calls grit — "an abiding commitment to work hard toward long-range goals and to persevere through the setbacks that come along the way."

Her speech drew cheers from the crowd. "The entire theme around grit I thought was excellent," said John Tus, the vice-president and treasurer of Honeywell and the father of a graduating senior. "I think that's what it takes to succeed, especially for the youth today, so many of them without jobs."

Another parent, Mark Landrieu, called Yellen's remarks "inspirational." Landrieu, a member of a Democratic Louisiana political family that counts a senator and two New Orleans mayors, was at the ceremony to cheer on his graduating son, Tyler.

When the financial crisis erupted, Yellen was president of the Fed's San Francisco regional bank. She was tapped to become the Fed's vice chair, the No. 2 position, in 2010.

Yellen said she and her Fed colleagues struggled during the crisis to produce the right mix of approaches to deal with the economic threats.

"We brainstormed and designed a host of programs to unclog the plumbing of the financial system and to keep credit flowing," she told the graduates. "Not everything worked, but we kept at it, and we remained focused on the task at hand."

Yellen, the first woman to lead the Fed in its 100-year history, was awarded an honorary doctorate Wednesday, as were Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, former Yankees pitching great Mariano Rivera and singer Aretha Franklin.

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