Rubin: Uncertainty is key to the future


The world is now interconnected in ways scarcely imaginable a short time ago, and we cannot afford to disengage from it. And in our engagement with it, we must remember that nothing is certain and shape our decisions accordingly.

Those were the main points outgoing Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin made in his speech to the assembled crowd at the University's 243rd Commencement exercises on Monday, May 17.

After the near-obligatory invocation of Penn's founder, Ben Franklin, who chided "the orator with his flood of words and his drop of wisdom," Rubin honored the spirit of the remark by keeping his speech short and to the point.

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Robert Rubin

Photo by Candace diCarlo

Rubin noted that even though we now live in a world where events thousands of miles away can have a direct effect on our lives, there are still those who say that Americans can turn away from that world. "I believe the whole history of the 20th century shows that this cannot work," he said. "The world does not end at our shores - it begins there."

Rubin also credited his college education with influencing his thinking about how decisions should be made. The atmosphere of constant questioning, combined with the intellectual rigor of his law school years, led him to embrace four principles of decision-making.

"First, the only certainty is that there is no certainty," he said. "Second, every decision, as a consequence, is a matter of weighing probabilities. Third, despite uncertainty, we must decide and we must act. And lastly, we need to judge decisions not only on the results, but on how the decision was made."

Rubin concluded by urging the graduates to embrace both uncertainty and the global society. "By supporting American leadership in the challenges of global interdependence and rejecting withdrawal and isolationism, you will help our country move into the challenges of the 21st century," he said.

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Originally published on May 27, 1999