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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

Greenspan to Speak at June Commencement

Fed Chairman boasts decades of public service

By Stephen E. Sachs, Contributing Writer

The man whose every word can move markets, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, will be the keynote speaker at Harvard's Commencement Day ceremonies on June 10.

As chairman of the Federal Reserve's Board of Governors and its Open Market Committee--the nation's principal monetary policymaking body--Greenspan has been widely credited with preserving the strength of the U.S. economy for more than a decade.

He was appointed chairman of the Federal Reserve in 1987 and has been subsequently re-appointed by Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton. His current term will expire in 2000.

University Spokesperson Alex Hupp said yesterday that Greenspan is "a wonderful choice for a Commencement speaker."

"[He] is a figure of great distinction, and I think America listens to his every word," Huppe said.

Greenspan, who Time magazine once referred to as one of the world's most influential men, served on the Economic Policy Advisory Board of President Ronald Reagan and was chair of the National Commission on Social Security Reform from 1981 to 1983.

Greenspan also chaired the President's Council of Economic Advisors from 1974 to 1977, a position subsequently held by Baker Professor of Economics Martin S. Feldstein '61.

Yesterday, Feldstein called Greenspan's selection by Harvard "very good news," adding "Dr. Greenspan is an outstanding choice."

"[He] has done an outstanding job as chairman of the Federal Reserve," Feldstein said. "As chairman, he has guided the Federal Reserve to eliminate inflation while maintaining economic growth."

Harvard First Class Marshal Baratunde R. Thurston '99 said Greenspan "has been acclaimed as one of the most influential people in the world today."

"I'm excited because I've never heard him speak, and I want to know what all the hype is about," said Thurston, who is a former Crimson executive.

Because of the Federal Reserve's power to affect the economy, investors have long paid close attention to Greenspan's public statements.

During a 1996 speech at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based think tank, Greenspan asked his audience whether stock market gains might have been due to "irrational exuberance." The next morning, markets tumbled worldwide, with the Dow Jones industrial average falling 140 points before recovering.

"I hope he doesn't say something too crazy [at Commencement] or the world will go insane -making the stock market crash or something," Thurston said.

But Feldstein expects Greenspan's speech to go beyond markets and finance.

"Greenspan can inform us about a wide range of things, from the changing role of the US in the world economy to the process of policy formation in Washington," Feldstein said.

"He's a man who's had experience in government now over several decades, so he brings a long term view of economic issues and of the way Washington works," he added.

In the past, Greenspan has been appointed to the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, the Commission on Financial Structure and Regulation, the Commission on an All-Volunteer Armed Force and the Task Force on Economic Growth.

In 1948, Greenspan graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor's degree in economics from New York University. He received a masters degree in economics in 1950, and a Ph.D. in economics in 1977, also from NYU. Greenspan has performed advanced graduate study at Columbia University.

Each year, the Harvard Alumni Association chooses a speaker for the Commencement Day's afternoon meeting, which occurs after degrees have been conferred on Commencement Day. This Commencement will be the 348th held by the University.

Recent Commencement speakers include Mary Robinson, U.N High Commissioner for Human Rights and former President of Ireland, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, Harold Varmus, director of the National Institutes of Health, Vaclav Havel, president of the Czech Republic, and Vice President Al Gore '69.

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