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Commencement Address
Remarks before St. Mark’s School of Texas’ Class of 2009

Richard W. Fisher
President and CEO
Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas

Dallas, Texas
May 22, 2009

The views expressed are my own and do not necessarily reflect official positions of the Federal Reserve System.

Commencement Address
Richard W. Fisher
I have enjoyed a rich history with this great school. St. Mark’s educated my two sons, Anders
and James. My wife, Nancy, served on its board of trustees. Many of my closest and most
respected friends proudly claim this fine institution as their alma mater. And I was delighted to
hear this morning that William Hicks was this year’s winner of the Richard and Nancy Fisher
Community Service Award. I know and love St. Mark’s. It is an honor to have been chosen to be
your commencement speaker.
It is a special honor to be introduced by Arnie Holtberg, a great headmaster. The best definition
of a leader that I know is summarized in John Paul Jones’ creed. The “Father of the Navy”
defined the perfect officer as a man “of liberal education, refined manners, punctilious courtesy,
and the nicest sense of personal honor.” That describes your headmaster to a “T.” Mr. Holtberg,
thank you for your leadership of this magnificent school.
Before I begin, I want the Class of 2009 to stand up. Look around this courtyard. All of these
people have come to celebrate your success. These are your parents and grandparents, cousins,
uncles and aunts, your brothers and sisters, your friends, your teachers and coaches and
counselors. They have been by your side through joyful moments and less joyful ones. They
have encouraged you. They have believed in you. And they have occasionally badgered and
hectored you and driven you nuts. All to good effect. They are here with glad and happy hearts to
celebrate your admission to the society of educated men. Give them a round of applause. Thank
them for loving you.
Now, please be seated.
The only thing that now stands between you and the reception of your diploma is … me. So I
will make it snappy.
By now, you have taken enough English and writing courses to know the definition of a good
essay: It is a collection of other people’s thoughts disguised as your own. Most graduation
speeches are no different. The standard routine for a commencement speaker is to dig through
Bartlett’s or the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations to find something said by some sage that will
grace a graduation ceremony with a lesson you can take with you as you go off into this
mysterious and challenging world.
To find something profound that I might pinch for your amusement this evening, I poured over
the sayings of the great minds of the ages: Plato, Socrates, Mencius, Muhammed, St. Augustine,
Voltaire, Martin Luther … Manny Ramirez, Miley Cyrus.
The maxims put forward by the sages of the ages are inspiring, but as Marksmen, you already
know them: be disciplined; be prepared; be loyal and thrifty and brave; don’t waste your talents;
question authority (but not the headmaster); take risks; push the envelope; be true to yourself, to
your school, to your country; never promise more than you can deliver; never compromise your
integrity; never forget that you have been given talent to do good; never, never, never, never give
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up the pursuit of excellence.
These are all good words. But, truth be told, it would save time and expedite many a graduation
ceremony if its organizers would forgo the speaker and simply remind the graduating class to
occasionally read or listen to the books-on-tape versions of the Bible or the Koran or
Shakespeare or Confucius—the ultimate sources of almost every graduation speech I have ever
read or listened to.
How could I, a lowly central banker whose musings are given to the arcana of economic and
monetary policy, possibly improve upon the wisdom of the ultimate sources? Not easily. So I
dug deep into my memory banks and called upon a source more erudite than Shakespeare and
more insightful than Confucius … my mother.
My mother was a stoic Norwegian. She was born and raised in an outpost in South Africa, lost
her father when she was 4 in the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 and grew up without the benefit
of the type of education you have received at St. Mark’s. Yet she was a wise woman. She was a
kind of female Nordic Yogi Berra: She dispensed exquisite pearls of wisdom to her three boys.
One is especially germane for this evening. She would say: “Never let your brains go to your
head.” The pun is horrific but the message is profound: To achieve success you will need to keep
your superb education and your talent in perspective. Brains and the gift of talent are necessary
but insufficient for success in life.
Time and again, in business and research labs and universities and government, we see instances
where men and women of towering intellect get far at first but ultimately snatch defeat from the
jaws of victory. They do so because they have forgotten to develop their emotional quotient with
the same devotion they applied to developing their intellectual quotient. My heartfelt advice to
you is to work as hard on expanding your EQ as you have on harnessing your IQ. You all have
great futures ahead of you. You will get there just as fast and enjoy it more if you remember that
a sound mind resides most comfortably in a sound, well-rounded person and that a sound, wellrounded person has more than a superior education and brain. The whole person is as important
an achievement for those few who have been admitted to the “society of educated men and
women” as is the achievement of intellectual excellence. Again, remember the creed of John
Paul Jones. Being possessed of refined manners, punctilious courtesy and the nicest sense of
personal honor are just as important to the success of a leader as a great education.
Which brings me to the last requirement for a commencement oration: a smattering of Latin. You
don’t sound serious at a commencement unless you show off your command of an ancient
tongue. A serious speaker might conclude with labor omnia vincit—a stern reminder that labor
conquers all things. It is true, indeed, that you can’t rest on your laurels or your good family
name or a St. Mark’s education or luck. You have to work hard to succeed. And to do so you
have to remember mens sana en corpore sano—a sound mind resides best in a sound body.
But that is way too ponderous. This is a festive night! So I will conclude with “Bubbus, sed
possum explicare; non sed possum comprehendere.”
For those of you unschooled in the language of the ancient Romans, that is Texas-ized Latin for
“Bubba, I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you.”
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This evening I have done my best to explain to the Class of 2009 that success comes to those
who best put their talents in context and who connect their substantial intellectual achievement to
an equally developed emotional capacity. Those of us who lead cerebral lives must constantly
strive to elevate our “people skills” to a level equal to our intellectual skills. I can explain that to
you ad nauseam. But you must come to understand it on your own.
And if you do—if you continue through life remembering that the “whole boy is the best boy”—
my guess is that someday you will be standing on the stage at St. Mark’s giving a
commencement speech to some future generation of lucky graduates of this great school. And
having the greatest pleasure a man can have: quoting your mom.
God bless you and good luck.

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