Forty-one years ago, Mary C. Daly G’94 was a 15-year-old high school dropout.
Surrounded by chaos at home in Ballwin, Missouri, Daly didn’t envision a bright future. That is, until she met the first of many people who would serve as what she calls the rungs on her personal ladder. Each rung believed in Daly and helped her reach new heights.
Betsy Bane encouraged her to earn her GED, and a mentor-mentee relationship quickly blossomed. As the two were discussing Daly’s path forward, Bane offered advice that still resonates.
“You have to bloom where you’re planted, and bloom every day. Wherever you start from, find a way to live your best life. You’ll have more opportunities and your world will be richer than you ever imagined. You’ll be successful and you’ll also be happy,” Daly says.
Four decades after receiving that advice—and after earning a GED, bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and a Ph.D. in economics from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University—Daly is returning to the place she says launched her career as a respected economist.
Daly, the president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco , hopes to deliver a similarly inspiring Commencement address to the more than 7,000 Syracuse University graduates who will have their degrees conferred Sunday morning inside the Dome.
“These graduates are our future. I’m at this point in my career where I’m thinking about what these graduates are going to accomplish. If I can have even the smallest influence on how they think of themselves and how proud and hopeful we are of them, that’s the honor of being the Commencement speaker,” says Daly, who will be awarded an honorary degree.
As an undergraduate at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Daly’s thirst for knowledge took off.
“It was like the universe exploded and my mind exploded and everything became available to me. I fell in love with everything that was possible,” she recalls.
Daly moved to Chicago following graduation to pursue a master’s degree from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. While working on set and prop design for an opera company, she placed a phone call to the second influential rung on her ladder: Gene Wagner, an undergraduate professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, who also earned a Ph.D. in economics from Maxwell.
Daly missed life in academia, so with some encouragement from Wagner, she applied to study economics and public policy in Maxwell’s Ph.D. program.
“Syracuse University came about at a great time for me. I threw myself into my studies, and I learned three things from my time in Maxwell and the Center for Policy Research : I do my best work in collaboration with others, the best researchers and scholars were devoted to making lives better, and you get more work done by influencing others instead of focusing on power,” Daly says.
At Syracuse, Daly also discovered what she calls her “North Star,” the purpose that drove her research on microeconomics and labor economics: devising fiscal policies geared at serving others.
Serving Every American
Visitors to the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco are greeted by a large fabric wall hanging that perfectly describes Daly’s personal mission statement: Our work serves every American and countless global citizens.
“Even when you don’t know that we’re helping, we support the payment system, we support the financial system, and we’re in charge of assuring we have a strong and sustainable economy,” says Daly, who became president and CEO on Oct. 1, 2018.
Daly oversees the largest of the Federal Reserve’s 12 districts. A member of the Federal Open Market Committee, she contributes to discussions on monetary policy in the United States, impacting the lives of every American citizen while also carrying ramifications around the world.
“My favorite people in my policymaking space are the ones who disagree with me. At Syracuse, I learned that the people who disagree with you are really helpful when you open your mind to what they have to say,” says Daly. “I’m surrounded by people who are different than me and it makes my life richer and fuller and my research better.”