Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen paid tribute Wednesday to the man she succeeded three months ago, saying Ben Bernanke demonstrated the courage and grit that were needed to stabilize the financial system and restore economic growth.

Yellen told graduates at New York University's commencement that a willingness to stand up for principles is a crucial trait. She said Bernanke showed such courage in responding to the 2008 financial crisis and the Great Recession.

Speaking at a ceremony at New York's Yankee Stadium, Yellen said Bernanke faced "relentless criticism, personal threats and the certainty that history would judge him harshly if he was wrong."

"You, too, will face moments in life when standing up for what you believe can make all the difference," Yellen said.

"There is an unfortunate myth," she told the graduates, "that success is mainly determined by something called 'ability.'"

In fact, she said, research shows that measures of ability are unreliable predictors of performance in academics or employment. Instead, she said what's more important is a quality that psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth calls grit — "an abiding commitment to work hard toward long-range goals and to persevere through the setbacks that come along the way."

When the financial crisis erupted, Yellen was president of the Fed's San Francisco regional bank. She was tapped to become the Fed's vice chair, the No. 2 position, in 2010.

Yellen said she and her Fed colleagues had struggled during the crisis to produce the right mix of programs to deal with the economic threats.

"We brainstormed and designed a host of program to unclog the plumbing of the financial system and to keep credit flowing," she told the graduates. "Not everything worked, but we kept at it and we remained focused on the task at hand."

Yellen, the first woman to lead the Fed in its 100-year history, was awarded an honorary doctorate at the ceremony.

Honorary doctorates were also given to former Yankees pitching great Mariano Rivera, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan and singer Aretha Franklin.

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Associated Press writer Karen Matthews contributed to this report from New York.