Alumnus Ben Carson honors young scholars, shares wisdom with graduating doctors

When world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin S. Carson came to the Yale campus on May 21 to deliver the Yale School of Medicine commencement address, he also had another important piece of business to attend to in New Haven.

The Yale alumnus (Class of 1973) went to the Dixwell-Yale Community Learning Center to meet with the five 2012 Carson Scholars, who were chosen for their academic excellence and humanitarian qualities.

Carson co-founded the Carson Scholars Fund in 1994 with his wife, Candy, who is also a Yale graduate (1975). The non-profit public charity is dedicated to impacting the nation in a positive way by cultivating future leaders who are academically talented and socially conscious. Each year, New Haven-area students in grades 4-11 who have earned the highest level of academic achievement and who display strong humanitarian qualities are awarded $1,000 college scholarships.

Carson scholarThis year’s honorees were Ariela Martin of Cooperative Arts and Humanities Magnet School; Charles Dow of Common Ground High School; Geovanni Colon Rosairo, of Columbus Family Academy; Matthew Struble of Hill Regional Career High School; and Armoni Moore of Wexler Grant Community School.

In addition, 730 students have renewed their Carson Scholar status. These previous winners have maintained high academic standards and a strong commitment to their communities and are recognized for their continued achievements. Melba Flores, a New Haven-area student at Cooperative Arts and Humanities Magnet High School who has earned a renewed award, was also honored at the ceremony.

To date, the Carson Scholars Fund has awarded over 5,200 college scholarships and has scholars in all 50 states and in the District of Columbia. More information is available on the Carson Scholars Fund website.

In his Yale School of Medicine address, Carson recounted some of the defining moments of his medical career and the lessons learned from those experiences. The following is an excerpt from the article “A neurosurgeon describes ‘the best feeling in the world’ by Jill Max, which appears in Yale Medicine magazine.

In 1985 pediatric neurosurgeon Benjamin S. Carson Sr., M.D., faced a dilemma. He believed that a hemispherectomy — removal of half of the brain — was the best way to help a girl with severe epilepsy who was suffering constant seizures. A senior physician, a well-known neurologist, disagreed. Carson performed the surgery anyway. “I risked my career because I asked myself why I became a neurosurgeon, and it was to give patients the best possible existence,” he told the 100 students graduating in the Class of 2012 in his commencement address on May 21.

In any difficult situation, he continued, he asks four questions. “What’s the best outcome if I do this? What’s the worst outcome if I do this? What’s the best outcome if I don’t do this? What’s the worst outcome if I don’t do this?”

Carson, director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, received national attention in 1987 for the first separation of twins joined at the back of the head. His hardscrabble beginnings — a poor student and troublemaker who grew up in poverty in Detroit—followed by his transformation into an eminent surgeon have been the subject of a documentary and a TV movie. Among his many awards is the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which he received in 2008. Carson’s belief in the power of education is such that he and his wife established the Carson Scholars Fund, which has awarded more than $4.5 million to scholars in 45 states.

Not all of his groundbreaking surgical attempts have been successful. In 1994 in South Africa he attempted to separate twin infants who were joined at the head. Both died because only one had a working heart and the other had no kidney function. When he returned to the same hospital in 1998 to operate on 11-month-old twins who were joined at the head, he was hesitant. This time, the complex 28-hour procedure worked; the twins are healthy and are now in ninth grade. “When you tell someone their loved one is doing well,” Carson said, “that’s the best feeling in the world.” …

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