White House Policy Adviser Gives Keynote at NYU Wagner's 2014 Convocation

Jason Furman

New York City Center has been a landmark for great music, theater, and dance for more than 70 years. But this year, on May 22, the stage was set for a different display of pride, satisfaction, and joy: NYU Wagner’s 2014 Convocation ceremony.

Hundreds of graduates filled the City Center to celebrate the completion of the requirements for their Master of Public Administration, Master of Urban Planning, Executive Master of Public Administration, or Doctor of Philosophy degree. Sherry Glied, Dean of NYU Wagner, offered warm words of praise for the graduates' accomplishments, and a strong message of encouragement as they launch or advance careers devoted, in diverse ways, to innovation, excellence, and public service. Students, their families, and faculty members were also treated to a stirring, witty, and instructive keynote speech by Jason Furman, the Chairman of the Obama Administration’s Council of Economic Advisors.

Dean Glied described Jason Furman as a “friend of Wagner,” and indeed, he served several years as a Visiting Scholar at the school before going on to work as a key economic policy adviser to then-Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. Furman stayed in Washington to help President Obama stem the global economic crisis with which the President was confronted from his very first days in office, and has now served in influential roles for the Obama Administration for more than six years.

Like Linda Mills, the NYU Vice Chancellor for Global Programs and University Life, who also spoke at the ceremony, Dr. Furman described Wagner's student body as a fund of bold, pattern-changing future leaders in and across the private, nonprofit, and public sectors. He has seen former students go on to key policy roles in the federal government. And fittingly, a highly promising graduate, Courtney Jeanne Jones (MPA ’14), introduced him as the keynote speaker, acquitting herself with professionalism and aplomb.

“I really loved teaching Wagner students – how smart and engaged you are, and how you always find ways to laugh about concepts like 'P-Values' and 'Confidence Intervals,' ” Furman said wryly, evoking knowing laughter from the graduates.

Among his advice to them: Save your textbooks, as you may well need them in a future role. Never “outsource” your views – rather, reach your own conclusions. Stick with your own values in policy debates, but listen to critics, and put your views to the kind of empirical “truth-seeking” tests you learned as a Wagner student. Remember that policy making is not for purists, and political tradeoffs are invariably required.

Finally: embrace complexity.  “In a world where many people feel you can find truth in 140 characters, you know better!” he declared.

Among the many Wagner awards of the morning, Erica Foldy was named “Professor of the Year,” and Lucas Koehler as “Adjunct Professor of the Year.”

In addition:

Martin Dworkis Memorial Award for academic achievement, participation in school activities, and public service – Leda DeRosa Bloomfield (MUP); and Catherine Kross Dangremond (MPA).

Robert F. Wagner Award for Public Service for leadership capacity and exceptional contribution to public service – Annalisa Synnestvedt (EMPA); and Mary (Max) Weselcouch (MUP).

Hammad Fund International Leadership Award for contribution to the global experience, academic success, and exceptional capacity for international leadership: Keita Nishimura (MPA); and David Adeoluwa Sangokoya (MPA).

The Sterling D. Spero Prize for exceptional written work: Rachael A. Young (MPA); and Capstone team members Carina Garcia, Jigitsa P. Patel, Rachel Perera, Carrie D. Schindele, and Amanda Kate Warco (all MPA).

Dean’s Awards in honor of previous NYU Wagner deans:

Robert Berne Award for Leadership for significant contribution to the NYU Wagner community: Ashley Nichole Kolaya (MPA).

Jo Ivey Boufford Award for innovative solutions to public service challenges: Aissata Mounir Belgrade Camara (MPA).

Howard Newman Award for exemplary work by a Capstone team: Scilla Michelucci Albanese; Emmett Mehan; Jaleesa Sasha Murrell; Yusuf Siddiquee, and Patrick Michael Yacco (all MPA).

Congratulations to all the 2014 NYU Wagner graduates and their families!