Bush Bestows Freedom Medal on Ben Carson
n Adventist pioneer in pediatric neurosurgery who overcame childhood poverty and achieved worldwide renown received the highest civilian award bestowed by the United States government. 

On June 19, Dr. Benjamin S. Carson Sr. was awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom for his outstanding contributions to medicine and his motivating influence on America's young people, U.S. President George W. Bush said during a morning ceremony in the East Room of the White House. 

Perhaps best known for his successful efforts in separating conjoined twins and controlling brain seizures in children, Carson is chief of pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins University Medical Institutions in Baltimore, Maryland. The inner city Detroit, Michigan native overcame a "grim future" of poverty, crime, and violence to become "a scholar, a healer, and a leader," Bush told the audience of cabinet members, Congressional representatives, and medal recipients and their families. "For his skills as a surgeon, his high moral standards, and his dedication to helping others, I am proud to bestow this honor," Bush said. 

GIFTED HANDS: Dr. Ben Carson is one of the world's most respected neurosurgeons and a devout Seventh-day Adventist. Carson, 56, said he prays for guidance before every surgery. [Photo courtesy Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly/RNS]
U.S. President George W. Bush, right, shakes hands with Dr. Benjamin Carson Thursday June 19 after presenting him with the 2008 Presidential Medal of Freedom during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House. Bush commended Carson for his skills in the operating room and his commitment to developing the nation's young people. [Photo: David Bohrer/The White House]
The soft-spoken Carson later told Adventist News Network that while national recognition is "obviously very nice," he feels like he's "just along for the ride." 

"You basically put everything in the Lord's hands, and he just guides your life," Carson said. "It's always been amazing to me, the things He's made possible." 

During the ceremony, Bush singled out Carson's mother, Sonya, who--seated near Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and former Senator Bob Dole--stood to receive the president's welcome. "Some moms are simply forces of nature who never take 'no' for an answer," Bush said. "I understand," he added, alluding to his own mother and eliciting laughter from the audience. 

Sonya, a single parent of two sons, Bush explained, required the young Carson and his brother to check out library books and write weekly reports on them. Never letting on that she couldn't read the reports, Sonya would mark and return them, knowing education was her sons' best opportunity, he said. 

Bush praised Carson and his wife, Candy, for founding The Carson Scholars Fund, Inc., a non-profit national scholarship fund that promotes similar academic achievement by recognizing and rewarding students in grades 4-11 who demonstrate academic excellence and commitment to community. 

"Our nation is falling so far behind technologically," Carson told ANN, adding that advocating education is his first priority these days. The medal, he said, gives him "a chance to promote not only academic achievement, but also the humanitarian qualities and values I think are so crucial to society. I've felt for many years that the Lord gave me this spectacular medical career as a platform for this."

"We congratulate Dr. Carson on this singular honor," General Conference President Jan Paulsen said in a statement. "His service to humanity models the values and quality of life expressed by our church around the globe." 

Established by President Harry S. Truman in 1945 to honor service during World War II, the medal's purpose was expanded by President John F. Kennedy in 1963 to include leaders in medicine, government, and the judiciary, as well as the military. The annual award is bestowed by the U.S. president to those who have made a "meritorious contribution" to the nation, a statement by the White House Press Secretary said yesterday.

Carson, who first intended to be a missionary doctor, told ANN he once worried switching to neurosurgery would mean an end to outreach. "I said, 'Lord, neurosurgeons are always in the operating room--they don't talk to anyone,'" Carson remembered with a laugh. "But He worked it out."

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