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I am one of those lucky people who was blessed with an awesome public education. I attended the Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn and subsequently graduated from Baruch College, all the while being a part of the New York City work force and gaining valuable real life experience.

My mother was a single parent. She knew that in order to support my sibling and I she needed higher education, so when I was in 3rd grade, she enrolled for courses at Pace University. She attained her bachelor’s degree in Economics the same year that I graduated from high school. She made it clear that she expected me to attain at least as much education as she had, ideally more.

You see when my mother was raising me, you could still get a good office job with a good pension with just a high school diploma. However, as I was graduating from high school that was no longer the case. In order to gain an entry level business position a bachelor’s degree was required.

As I now stand in my mother’s shoes, with children of my own, it is apparent to me that for my children to be successful they will probably need to attain master’s degrees in their field of choice. And so wanting to honor my mother by attaining more education than she has, and also wanting to be a good example to my own children, I find myself back in school to attain a master’s degree of my own. When my children enter college, I can say to them, “I expect you to attain at least as much education as I have, preferably more!”

Shakima Williams-Jones owns and operates Love Movement, LLC, an accounting and business management firm with clients in the entertainment, education and non-profit world. Ms. Williams-Jones currently sits on the board of Uncommon Schools NYC, a charter management organization that operates 22 charter schools in NYC from grades K – 12. She holds a B.A. in Accounting from Baruch College, is basketball coach to 20 high school aged children and is the proud parent of a 5. She is currently enrolled in the M.S. in Business Management and Leadership program.

Each year CUNY SPS asks graduating students to apply to be the Student Speaker at Commencement. As part of their application they are asked to submit their anticipated speech. At the end of the process only one student is selected, however, numerous speeches embody the spirit of the graduating class. We are proud to share some of these speeches here.

Kathryn Walker is graduating from CUNY SPS on June 6 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business and this is her speech:

Momentous is defined as “(of a decision, event, or change) of great importance or significance, especially in its bearing on the future.” Well, this certainly is a momentous occasion, and marks an accomplishment of a great milestone in our lives. Think about your life before you decided to embark upon this achievement. For me, I had been out of school for 23 years. I had an associate’s degree, and I was proud of it. I had been working for the same company for 16 years and was proud of what I had accomplished there. But I wanted more. I wanted to keep progressing. I had thought off and on about going back to school and finishing my bachelor’s degree, but there was always an excuse not to: where to find the time, not to mention the expense. In looking for more progressed, higher management positions, I found a constant requirement: a bachelor’s degree—which I did not have. It became apparent that going back to school was something that I needed to do. Think about what motivated you to decide to finish your degree.

In researching where to attain this needed degree, I found that CUNY School of Professional Studies was the best fit for me. Compared to other schools, the tuition was competitive and, being online, the schedule would allow me the flexibility to work while going to school. Although, I do have to say that the estimation of each class taking 9 to 12 hours per week is a bit of an understatement (chuckle).

Each class in each semester brought new challenges. Aside from the academic part of learning, there was BlackBoard, Wikis, e-Portfolios, and an array of learning software systems. I even tweeted in one class. But no matter how high the hurdle, we made it to graduation because we stuck to it, we met the challenges, and we overcame them.

Wherever you go from here—whether it’s a new job or continuing with your education—you can overcome new challenges with confidence, and not be intimidated by learning new things. By graduating from CUNY SPS, you have shown that you are capable. Look how far you have come.

In Economics class we learned the term “opportunity cost.” Defined, opportunity cost is “the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.” Besides the financial cost of books and tuition, what were your opportunity costs while pursuing your degree? Perhaps spending less time with your family and loved ones, neglected housework, lack of sleep, weight gain…I’m sure we all have our own list. But we did not give up. We persevered.

However, we did not accomplish this alone. Who was there for you? In what ways did they support you? Maybe it was your advisor who took all the time you needed to guide you through unchartered territory and put your mind at ease. And I’m sure we can all think of at least one special professor that was so attentive and answered all our questions to ensure we had a clear understanding.

And what about our friends and family? Our loved ones did not sign up for school. But there was an opportunity cost for them as well. Think about the ways in which they supported us. Perhaps helping out by running errands, doing extra housework, being understanding about the time we spent with schoolwork rather than with them, or listening to us vent about a stress or frustration about a project, an assignment or an exam.

We are truly blessed and have much in which to be thankful for what we have accomplished and for those close to us that supported us along the way.

 

The recent Eurozone sovereign-debt crisis has caused a serious dilemma for not only the weaker economies of the European Union within the Eurozone, but also the stronger ones. Germany, the fifth largest economy in the world and one of the leading EU countries has played a big role in the attempts to solve this crisis, which has put it in a bit of a rough position in its internal political sphere in regards to bailouts for countries like Greece, Portugal and Ireland, and the possibility of future default, yet has also given it an advantage in influencing the economic policies of weaker Eurozone countries who are dependent on bailout money. After many deliberations amongst EU leaders, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) was approved, which will replace the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) upon its expiry in June 2013.

The ESM is meant to safeguard financial stability within the Eurozone and provide assistance to Eurozone member states who are experiencing financial distress. Starting in June 2013, all new sovereign bonds will include a Collective Action Clause (CAC), which will enable creditors to pass a decision, based on a majority vote, to change the terms of payment through application of a standstill, an extension of maturity or an interest-rate cut/haircut in the case of insolvency. The purpose of the ESM is essentially to make default less risky for creditor countries. The problem is that this doesn’t solve the problem of the heavily indebted economies of Greece, Portugal and Ireland and their subsequent affect on other, stronger Eurozone economies such as Germany.

One obvious flaw in the ESM is the fact that it’s just not enough to fix the problem; the fund amounts to €700 billion, allowing for a €500 billion loaning capability, of which each member country will contribute €80 billion each in annual installments that begin in 2013 while the rest will be made through guarantees, direct purchases of government bonds in the primary market or what Wolfgang Münchau has called “callable capital” – when shareholders supply the depleted fund with new capital – a highly unlikely scenario. A mere €500 billion will not cover the debt problem of Greece by itself, let alone that of Ireland, Portugal and other countries teetering on the brink of a debt crisis such as Italy and Spain whose economies simply cannot afford to be further burdened with bailouts for another member state. Furthermore, the ESM fails to tackle some of the most pressing issues regarding the restructuring of the financial systems of all the Eurozone countries that are suffering financially, something that is needed if this crisis is ever going to be settled in the near future.

Eurozone countries with AAA ratings, which are limited to Germany and France, have devised a get-out-of-jail-free card of sorts: the privilege to not have to actually put up the cash for the fund but simply give a guarantee. This will certainly work to their advantage but that at the same time will work toward the demise of the weaker economies, who do not get such a privilege, which seems likely to produce those awful long-run effects that any economics student is so often advised to avoid. It is understandable that Germany and France do not wish to be burdened with the debt of the fiscally irresponsible, if it can be said that simply, yet nonetheless, a customs union/partial economic-union bears with it certain responsibilities and certain burdens, a fact that is always in direct competition with the social welfare programs of the participating countries and thus, will produce a political nightmare for those involved. But if Germany and France allow this circle of debt to continue (Italy backing Spain backing Greece backing Portugal backing Ireland, etc.…) at some point, the bubble will burst and they will be forced to fork over the money and commit political suicide or let the whole Eurozone economy collapse. In the meantime, speculation may kill any chance that the weaker countries have of digging themselves out of the hole, only deepening the problem even more. As an example, Portugal’s government bond rating went from an A- to a BBB after the announcement of the ESM in March, pushing Portugal ever closer to the abyss of dire insolvency.

This does not mean that the ESM is a bad thing. On the contrary, it’s a step in the right direction, but it fails to promote stability amongst Eurozone countries and burdens those who are already on the brink of financial collapse. Countries whose fiscal problems have led them to the point where they must tap into the ESM will be forced to follow “pro-cyclical budgetary policies”, whose tactics of budget cuts and tax increases may not necessarily work to the advantage of the country in question. Another reason that this might cause problems is the fact that a decrease in the money supply of any given country produces a rise in interest rates and a subsequent appreciation of the currency. The last thing that any debt-stricken Eurozone country needs at the moment is an increase in the Euro, which is too strong for many of the weak countries to handle. Of course, the CAC allows for interest rate cuts, but these must be approved by a majority vote, and speculation damages must be taken into consideration; if investors start pulling out due to interest rate cuts, this would also increase the problem.

Another suggestion that has seen some media time has been that of a single European Bond that would replace all national debt in the Eurozone. This prospect was heavily advocated by Wolfgang Münchau in an article for the Financial Times; the flexibility that would be offered by such a mechanism, including the option to be sold and traded on secondary markets could provide an alternative to “cross-country transfers”. Alas, this option might be an even more difficult sell on the internal political scene since combining Germany and France’s AAA bonds with those of the less fortunate is not something that either of the former would be too keen on, and in fact, the idea was shot down by the German Finance Minister in 2009.

Unfortunately, the Eurozone is between a rock and a hard place. Germany’s economy is running strong but the struggling economies of Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Italy are in dire need of a revamp. The most important thing for the EU to do right now is to jump in to the gritty task of restructuring the failed financial and economic systems of these countries and demand that the government’s of these countries make a serious effort to stabilize, organize and amend their economic and financial infrastructures in a way that will help them to work their way out of the crisis slowly (Buiter et al.). This will be no easy task and will demand the active participation of all debt-ridden Eurozone countries.  The future may seem bleak but at some point, the Eurozone countries will be forced to a point where they will have to stop “muddling through”, as Münchau calls it, and take a decisive action. Just what this action may entail remains to be seen.

Nina Michael is in her junior year in the BS in Business program at CUNY School of Professional Studies. Nina has been all over the world and loves traveling; she currently  lives between Italy and New York where she works as a professional English teacher and translator. She loves languages, food, coffee, wine and a good book; she is also a first-rate bartender.

Questionable financial protagonist Moody’s is once again in the cross-hairs, only this time, the antagonist comes with an Italian name, Michele Ruggiero. The conflict? Market manipulation.

In spring of this year, Greece’s economy hit rock bottom, striking fear in the hearts of euro investors who were primed to react irrationally at the slightest news of doom.

Enter Moody’s, international rating agency giant.

On 6 May 2010 at 11:15am, Moody’s circulated a report that rated the Italian banking and economic systems to be “at risk”. In a matter of hours the value of the Italian financial market turned into a figurative picture of a Christmas tree after New Years: thrown to the sidewalk with only a few remnants of cheap tinsel hanging off a deadened pine needle. Unlike the unfortunate tree however, the walk of shame only lasted for one day. Prime minister and part-time political scandal spotlight-stealer Silvio Berlusconi, who interestingly holds the opinion for rating agencies that much of the Italian public holds of him – lost credibility – came to the rescue, stating that the “Italian public accounts are solid [and] the country is not at risk”. Other powerful figures in politics, finance and the banking industry also intervened to debunk Moody’s claims and sustain that Italy was not at risk of default. Fitch, another international rating agency, affirmed the same and the next day Moody’s decided to change its position.

Nevertheless, the misleading information and resulting freefall, however brief, prompted the main consumer associations of Adusbef and Federconsumatori to file a complaint with the prosecutor’s office of Trani. Carlo Maria Capristo, head of the office, passed the case to Michele Ruggiero, the deputy public prosecutor who was already investigating charges against American Express regarding a fraud scandal involving revolving credit cards. Ruggiero was also part of the prosecution team investigating allegations of pressure from Berlusconi on Agcom, the Italian Communications Authority, to shut down Annozero, a political talk show whose guests frequently roast the prime minister.

At the center of the market rigging investigation is Ross Abercromby, the senior analyst who backed the statements made by Moody’s in its report. Abercromby has been issued a cautionary warrant by the prosecutor’s office of Treni; charges include manipulation of the finance market and disclosure of false information, among others. The prosecution is looking for evidence that Moody’s engaged in market rigging at the cost of investors by issuing the detrimental report that resulted in a severe alteration in the value of Italian securities. If found guilty, Moody’s could be forced to make retribution payments.

This is not the first time Moody’s has come under scrutiny. The first drama happened in 1976 when Moody’s dropped the rating of NYC MAC bonds from A to B after the state of New York had issued a moratorium on payment of principal for city notes that were outstanding, causing a huge drop in the sale of bonds and prompting allegations against Moody’s of political bias as reasons for the rating drop. In 2007 Moody’s, along with Standard and Poor’s and Fitch, came under fire for failing to predict the housing bubble crash, allowing the bubble to grow to the size it did and failing to properly adjust its ratings until the last minute when it was already too late for many investors. In April of this year Moody’s was issued a subpoena from the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission for its role in assigning misleading credit ratings for toxic assets, which ultimately helped to contribute to the financial crisis of 2008.

Whether or not Moody’s did intentionally manipulate the market or whether they simply made an overly negative judgment call remains to be seen. Italy, like the rest of the world, has had its struggles since the 2008 global financial disaster. It has certainly seemed to hold its own in comparison to Greece, Portugal and Ireland as of late, although last month, Citi economist Willem Buiter cited his pessimism for the future of Italy’s risk ratings as a result of continued political instability and high debt levels. The recent Parisian-worthy mob riot in Piazza del Popolo in Rome after Berlusconi won the confidence vote by 314 to 311, in addition to the many student riots (see photos) that have taken place throughout Italy in response to University reforms, can attest to a severely divided government and angry citizens, two things that can certainly give investors reason to shudder.

Nevertheless, risk or no risk, one thing is sure; Italy will not be devaluated without a fight!

Nina Michael is in her junior year in the BS in Business program at CUNY School of Professional Studies. Nina has been all over the world and loves traveling; she currently  lives between Italy and New York where she works as a professional English teacher and translator. She loves languages, food, coffee, wine and a good book; she is also a first-rate bartender.