There was a time over the summer when it looked – to anyone interested in the capital markets – as if financial meltdown was imminent. Between the downgrade of the US debt, a wildly unpredictable stock market, and a worsening political imbroglio brewing over how to manage unemployment, there was no shortage of public hyperbole about this looming “Armageddon.” But in the years following the debacle of 2008, one can be forgiven for foreseeing a bleak financial future.

It was for this reason that Fuqua’s 2011 Finance Symposium, organized by the Duke MBA Finance Club, seemed exceedingly relevant. Last year’s event was undoubtedly enriching, and it was enhanced with the optimism that comes from 18 months of upward trending markets. But the last year has called into question whether or not we actually solved the issues of 2008, or whether we simply did a good job of concealing them for a little bit longer. Not surprisingly, this was on the minds of the speakers as well.

Keynote speaker Dr. Roger Ferguson, CEO of TIAA CREF, has an esteemed and decorated career, including tours in consulting, law, and government, but even he humbly admitted that the current state of the financial markets is puzzling. However, he seemed to possess some optimism, suggesting that there are fewer structural deficiencies in our economy now, and that while there are still fledgling banks, the financial system, as a whole, seems much more viable than it once did. He also alluded to the sovereign debt crisis in Europe as contributing to diminished confidence in our economy.

In passing, Dr. Ferguson mentioned that, as students, we’re fortunate to be getting training at a time when the lessons have become even richer due to current events. But it struck me that there was more to it than that. Dr. Ferguson’s analysis of our current economic woes suggested that there isn’t a singular factor that’s to blame; indeed, it is an untimely confluence of a series of issues, domestic and foreign, political and financial, that have all contributed. It is a much more complex conundrum than we have dealt with before, and this entanglement of diverse actors is something that will characterize the economy of today and tomorrow.

My experience at Fuqua, thus far, has emphasized that very reality of the economic world of the 21st century. We have the good fortune of an exceptionally diverse class, with members that can bring experience from each of these unique institutions to the figurative melting pot. We have a curriculum that attempts to incorporate real life studies that can mimic, or at least provide precedent for, what’s happening in today’s economy.