Author, musician and philanthropist Candy Carson and Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, a CEO, chairman of a national charity and a former U.S. ambassador, spoke with passion driven by personal experience as they were honored as 2018 Women of Distinction by Palm Beach Atlantic University.
Carson thanked the audience at The Breakers – Palm Beach for their volunteer efforts to lift up all Americans, saying, “And it doesn’t just take one person, we really all have to pull together. … I am thankful to be born in this country and for the opportunities that we’ve had that put us here now.”
McElveen-Hunter talked about her childhood with her military pilot father and an indomitable mother. As children, she said, her mother took she and her siblings into the backyard of their Bossier City, Louisiana home where they buried a shoebox containing a single sheet of paper with the word ‘can’t’ written on it.
“She taught us that ‘can’t’ is a word that doesn’t exist,” said McElveen-Hunter. “My foundation is really my parents’ example. (Her mother) taught us to look for the good in others and to see God’s hand in everything. She instilled in us the power of personal courage, the nobility of service and sanctity of family.”
Often punctuating her remarks with humor, McElveen-Hunter spoke often about her mother, becoming serious when sharing her “mother’s pearls of wisdom”: Time is precious, use it wisely; Mediocrity is the greatest sin; Work is the greatest privilege; and Failure is a comma, never a period.
With her family present, including her son, Bynum Hunter, Jr., and sister, Tweed McElveen-Hunter, she used wit and humor to share stories about her service as U.S. ambassador to Finland and as first female national chairman of the board of the American Red Cross. Joining her table at the event were the Finnish ambassador to the U.S. Her Excellency Kirsti Kauppi and Gail McGovern, president of the American Red Cross, among other supporters and friends. She proudly acknowledged her staff at Pace Communications, Inc., the largest independently owned custom content agency in the nation, many of whom were present.
Carson talked about establishing the Carson Scholars Fund more than 20 years ago with her husband, Dr. Ben Carson, now U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. She recognized Amy Warner, executive director of the Carson Scholars Fund, and her husband, Lee, who is chairman of the fund.
“Teachers have told us that the grade point average of the class that contains a Carson Scholar goes up because the students see that there is something that they can shoot for,” Carson said. “One of the reasons that we started (the scholars program) is that these future leaders need to be encouraged.”
She shared the story of one of the scholars, Tyler, who lost one parent to cancer and the other to suicide. With only one semester until graduation, Tyler dropped out of school to help raise his younger brother, but that summer returned to finish and became valedictorian of his class. He earned a scholarship to Johns Hopkins where he was a triple major studying math, physics and economics.
“He started a suicide support group,” Carson noted. “He said that thing that brought him through it all that was being a Carson Scholar.”
Carson spoke about another cause of hers, support of the new Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. Calling it “a way to get our Judeo-Christian values back,” she talked about the museum’s technology that enables visitors to customize their experience as a means to expose the public to the Bible and its impact throughout the ages.
“We need to get our civility back,” she said. “It’s about honesty and respect. It’s about caring for each other, not shooting each other.” She asked the audience of 400 guests to observe a moment of silence for the victims of the Parkland, Florida shooting.
Supporting Carson at the event were her husband and son, Ben Carson, Jr.; Judge Jeanine Pirro, the host of Fox News Channel's “Justice with Judge Jeanine;” principals of schools that house Carson Reading Rooms and other volunteers with the Museum of the Bible.
The event, which raises money to support scholarships for female students, also honored seniors Brittany Carlton-Wauford, a ministry major from Riverview, Florida, and Rachel Green, a psychology major from Washington, D.C. The student members of the PBA Concert Choir performed, directed by Dr. Geoffrey Holland. Guests were welcomed into the luncheon by a jazz performance led by professor Roget Pontbriand.