Board of trustees, Syracuse faculty, all members of the graduating class of 2010: it is a privilege to be here with you today celebrating this important step in your lives, one that I am sure is also a moment of relief and joy for all of you, particularly the parents that are here today.
Graduating today means you are through with final exams, through with submitting term papers, all that nervousness, the cold sweat of sleepless nights preparing to answer seemingly impossible questions. Well, that's a feeling we banking executives know pretty well these days -- we call it "testifying before Congress."
I am honored to be here today, but I also know that some of your fellow students have raised questions about me being your commencement speaker. When I heard about these protests, I wanted to understand what was behind them, so I called one of the students leading that movement, and we had a good conversation -- I'm sure she's here somewhere. I heard her concerns about me, the nation's banking system and about capitalism itself. Some I thought were legitimate, others I disagreed with. But whether I agree with her or not, I say "good for her;" I'm proud of her for speaking up. In fact, it is completely appropriate to hold me accountable for those things I am responsible for.
We all should be held accountable. But what does it mean to hold someone accountable, and how do you make yourself accountable? Today I will talk about what it takes to be accountable, in the hope that it might be valuable to you in years to come.
I want to point out that in sharing my views with you, I do not mean to imply that I did it all right; I did not.
Many of the lessons I've learned I've learned by making mistakes. It takes courage to be accountable. Throughout my life, throughout this crisis in the past three years, I've seen many people embarrass themselves by failing to stand up, being mealy-mouthed and acting like lemmings by simply going along with the pack. I also saw plenty of people under enormous pressure who always did the right thing. Graduates, you will soon leave this wonderful community and venture into a new world to get ready for new jobs, new opportunities and new lives. Along the way, you're going to face a lot of pressure. Pressure to go along, to get along, to toe the line, to look the other way when you see things that aren't right, and pressure to do things simply because everybody else is doing them. Never give in to that pressure. Have the fortitude to do the right thing, not the easy thing. Don't be somebody's lapdog or sycophant. Have the courage to speak the truth, even when it is unpopular, and have the courage to put yourself on the line, to strive for something meaningful, and even to risk what would be an embarrassing failure.