2022 Sed Vitae Award Given to Economist Christine Cumming
An outstanding member of the Class of 1969 is the recipient of this year’s Sed Vitae Award: Christine Cumming. Her professional accomplishments are matched by her commitment to the school. She has been a guide, a mentor and a friend, currently serving as vice chair of Visitation’s Board of Trustees.
Chris worked at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, serving as first vice president, and its second-ranking officer. In more than 36 years at the bank, she held numerous leadership positions and played a strategic role in various Federal Reserve System initiatives. She led the bank in the development of a comprehensive risk management program, for instance, and in the establishment of an Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
Visitation School gave Chris the confidence to pursue economics, a male-dominated field she knew little about. She went on to earn a doctorate in economics from the University of Minnesota and now shares her knowledge widely. She’s an adjunct professor at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University and an advisor to Visitation’s investment club. She encourages the students to be critical thinkers, nuanced in their assessments of a company’s financial health.
The Salesian Spirituality embodied by the Sisters gave her the softer skills to stand out in a competitive industry, Chris said. “Those little virtues made a big difference. Having the optimism to think, ‘I’ll get through this’; the emphasis on kindness and humility served me when I ended up working jobs that were clerical and not what I’d been trained for; and patience, which I interpret in the context of being willing to wait for the fun things and focus on education and work.”
The Salesian virtues opened doors for Chris when she worked as an international economist for the Fed. “The phrase the Sisters said so often was, ‘Courtesy is the little sister of charity.’ It’s about making the other person comfortable. This was really helpful when I was with people from different parts of the world with different customs.
When Chris was a student at Vis, Sister Péronne Marie Thibert served as the head of school. She demonstrated gentle strength, which Chris tried to emulate in her career. “It was a huge help – getting along with colleagues, getting along with folks who worked for me and with senior people,” she said. “It was part of the environment at Visitation – and it is today. Bringing some of that to the bank was something good.”
Critical thinking, which she honed as a Vis student, set her apart as a leader. “One of my strengths at the Fed was being able to analyze real-world problems. That often involved financial change, which there was a lot of. Being able to come up with answers to questions: Why is this happening? What does it mean? What concerns should we have? What are the benefits? What are the downsides?”