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Fortitude: Janet Yellen’s journey from Brooklyn to Washington

December 3, 2020 Jaime DeJesus
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President-elect Joe Biden officially nominated former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen for Treasury secretary Tuesday during the introduction of his economic team. If confirmed by the Senate, Yellen would be the first woman to hold the position.

The Fort Hamilton High School graduate, who chaired the Fed from 2014 to 2018, spoke during the conference about her Brooklyn roots and her father’s influence on her career.

“When he graduated from medical school during the Great Depression, he looked for a home and place to hang his shingle near the Brooklyn docks,” Yellen said. “That’s in Bush Terminal on the upper New York Bay, which was a thriving hub for manufacturing and transportation – and for the union workers whose livelihoods depended on them.”

Fort Hamilton graduate Janet Yellen is President-elect Biden’s nominee for Treasury secretary. Photo courtesy of Fort Hamilton Alumni Association

Yellen said her father’s lessons about the value of hard work inspired her to become an economist.

“I was concerned about the toll of unemployment on people, families and communities,” she said. “And I’ve spent my career trying to make sure people can work and achieve the dignity and self-worth that comes with it.”

Yellen said the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic requires urgent action.

“Inaction would produce a self-reinforcing downturn causing yet more devastation, and we risk missing the obligation to address deeper structural problems,” she said.

She also said the U.S. must rebuild its infrastructure, create better jobs, invest in its workforce and advance racial equity so the economic recovery includes everyone.

“Above all, we share your belief in the American dream,” she said. “I pledge as Treasury secretary to work every day towards rebuilding that dream for all Americans. And to the great public servants of the Treasury Department, I look forward to working with you to rebuild the public trust.”

Biden’s selection of Yellen, a 1993 Fort Hamilton Hall of Fame inductee, was celebrated by her fellow alumni.

“Janet was a year ahead of me — and what a role model,” said Patti Vining, class of 1964. “She knew then, and I hope she knows now, how delighted I am with the leadership she has shown in caring about people and our economy.”

“We always knew that she was destined for greatness and are thrilled with President-elect Biden’s selection of her as the next Treasury secretary,” said Valerie Hodgson, president of the Fort Hamilton H.S. Alumni Association. “The country will be in good hands.”

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