By Julia Ferrante
LEWISBURG, Pa. — Renowned pediatric neurosurgeon Benjamin S. Carson Sr. recalled a time in 1997 when he traveled to South Africa to perform a high-risk operation to separate conjoined twins attached at the head.
"I knew it would be a great medical challenge," Carson recalled, describing his thoughts as he set out to perform what would become 28 hours of surgery to separate vital organs and vessels so that each child could live independent lives. "I felt strongly I could do it in one long operation."
Three-quarters of the way through, with hours of complex disentanglement ahead of them, the surgical team stopped to consider whether they should continue later at Carson's better-equipped hospital, Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore. Carson, knowing the risk of moving the twins and how important it was to the community that the operation be completed there, decided to move forward. The surgery was a success, and within days the children were walking and playing. Next week, they will graduate from the sixth grade.
Carson told the story to a group of graduates, family members and friends at Bucknell University on Sunday morning during the University's 160th Commencement, encouraging all to persevere and use their talents to help others. More than 9,000 people attended, and an additional 624 people viewed a live webcast.
During the ceremony in Bucknell's Academic Quadrangle, 873 undergraduate degrees and 26 graduate degrees were awarded. Of the undergraduate degrees, 721 were in the arts and sciences, while another 152 received engineering degrees. The graduates represented 37 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as 18 nations.
Bucknell President Brian C. Mitchell congratulated the Class of 2010 for taking on the challenge of joining an academic institution of high standards and succeeding.
"You have completed a four-year immersion in the liberal arts," Mitchell said. "It is a learning experience that has influenced the worldview of generations of Bucknellians while simultaneously preparing them to succeed in every facet of modern life. It is an achievement in which you can and should take a great deal of pride, and which we trust you will carry forward with humility and commitment."
Carson, who grew up in a single-parent household in extreme poverty in Detroit and Boston, challenged the new graduates to assess their skills and strengths and to use them for good.
With his mother's encouragement, Carson pursued his education and became one of the top neurosurgeons in the world. He developed an interest in medicine and missionary work as a child and considered studying psychiatry before realizing that his fascination with the brain and strong eye-hand coordination would serve him better in neurosurgery.
"Analyzing one's own gifts and talents is a vital question," he said.
He later encouraged the graduates to "think big" in their lives and careers but to do so while considering how their actions will help or hurt others in their "sphere of influence."
"Lead a clear and honest life," he said. "Learn from your triumphs and mistakes. ... Be nice to people, because once they get over their suspicion of why you were nice, they will be nice to you, too. ... If somebody is struggling, help them. ... If we were all thinking about others first, what kind of a nation or a world would we be?"
Recognized with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his achievements performing high-risk operations and advancing education for all students, Carson rose to become a professor of neurosurgery, oncology, plastic surgery and pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He has directed pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center for nearly a quarter-century.
Carson also is president and co-founder of the Carson Scholars Fund, which recognizes youth of all backgrounds for exceptional academic and humanitarian accomplishments. He also is co-founder of Angels of the O.R., which provides grants for medical expenses not covered by insurance.
In 1987, Carson performed the first successful separation of craniopagus twins joined at the back of the head. Ten years later, he conducted the first completely successful separation of type-2 vertical craniopagus twins in South Africa and the first successful placement of an intrauterine shunt for a hydrocephalic twin.
Bringing it home
After all of the degrees were awarded Sunday, Class of '10 speaker Tim Hoffman combined five types of commencement speeches in his nod to fellow classmates, congratulating the class for their work in and out of the classroom and for building a tight-knit community at Bucknell even as the world presented challenges around them.
"We have been blessed with the opportunity to attend one of America's elite higher education institutions," Hoffman said. "Our diplomas do not just recognize our accomplishments. I hope each of us uses our gifts to give back to the community."
The Class of '10 joins nearly 50,000 living Bucknell alumni.
Also on Sunday, honorary doctorates were presented to Martha Nussbaum, a philosopher, author and current Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago; John F. Zeller, Class of '41 and former vice president, general counsel and acting president of Bucknell; and Robert C. Rooke, trustee emeritus, honorary campaign chair and recipient of Bucknell's Stephen W. Taylor Medal in 1997.
And faculty members were honored with several awards: Associate Professor of Classics Stephanie Larson received the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching; Associate Professor of Comparative Humanities John C. Hunter received the Class of 1956 Lectureship; Associate Professor of Biology and Animal Behavior Elizabeth Capaldi Evans and Associate Professor of Management Tammy Hiller received the Presidential Awards for Teaching Excellence; and Associate Professor of Chemistry Robert Stockland received the William Pierce Boger Jr., M.D. Award for Excellence in Teaching in the Natural Sciences.
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