Ben Bernanke is an American economist who has played a major role in devising the country's economic policies over the years. He is perhaps best known for heading the U.S. Federal Reserve during the biggest financial challenges faced by Americans since the Great Depression. Bernanke's decisive actions during the rapidly escalating 2007-09 global credit crisis are widely acknowledged to have averted an economic catastrophe, while his unconventional policy measures jump-started a U.S. recovery after the "Great Recession."

Before his appointment as Fed chairman, Bernanke was a tenured professor at Princeton University with a glittery resume of academic accomplishments. Throughout his career, Bernanke has published many articles on a wide variety of economic issues, and he is the author of several scholarly books. He has held a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Sloan Fellowship, and he is a fellow of the Econometric Society and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2009 he was named the “Time Magazine Person of the Year.”

Bernanke found his love for economics at Harvard University after enrolling in 1971. Though he had intended to pursue mathematics, it quickly became clear to Bernanke that he couldn't compete with Harvard's best math students, so he turned his intellectual prowess to economics, quickly becoming a star student in the department. His senior thesis was named 1975's best undergraduate economics thesis at Harvard and he graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa that year. He also won a National Science Foundation fellowship, which meant that the NSF would pay Bernanke's tuition and expenses for the first three years of graduate school, wherever he wanted to go.

In 2008 Bernanke took a break from one of the most influential economic posts in the world when a group of Harvard seniors invited him to be that year's Class Day speaker. Bernanke took the opportunity to return to his alma mater for the traditional ceremony that is held a day before Commencement, but that also provides a chance for speakers to address students at greater length than is possible during Commencement. Focusing on economics, he reminded the students that education is both the best hedge against economic uncertainty and a student's greatest asset. More importantly, and more aptly, he cautioned the seniors that life is often unpredictable.

"You cannot predict your path. You can only try to be as prepared as possible for the opportunities, as well as the disappointments, that will come your way. For people, as for economies, adaptability and flexibility count for a great deal," said the Harvard graduate, whose legacy is based on this very ability.