While acknowledging that there is much “disunity” in the United States today, celebrated neurosurgeon and former presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson sounded a hopeful tone as he delivered the commencement address to more than 500 Palm Beach Atlantic University graduates and hundreds of guests at the Palm Beach County Convention Center on Saturday.

He reminded them that as they go out into the world, “always remember God is in charge.”

Dr. Ben Carson speaks to Palm Beach Atlantic University faculty members following the spring commencement ceremony.

Carson used his own life as an example. He said that as a young faculty member at Johns Hopkins, his interest in surgically separating conjoined twins came out of the blue. “I started to read everything I could read about conjoined twins,” he said.

When a case presented itself, he worked to assemble a team of experts to perform the first and only successful separation of craniopagus (Siamese) twins joined at the back of the head in 1987. He also performed the first fully successful separation of type-2 vertical craniopagus twins in 1997 in South Africa.

“I was inspired to start studying that by God,” Carson said. “It wasn’t something that I was necessarily interested in, but he put it on my heart. And the Lord will put things upon your heart too. And He never puts something on your heart that He doesn’t give you the ability to deal with.”

He told the graduates that as they examine their lives, they will see that “God has given each and every one of you specific gifts and talents. When you learn how to use those, and think about the things that will allow you to accelerate those kinds of talents, it is amazing what will happen in your life.” 

To illustrate that point, Carson used the acrostic THINK BIG. The T stands for talent, he said, and the H stands for honesty.

Palm Beach Atlantic University graduates

“If you lead a clean, honest life, you don’t have to worry about skeletons in your closet. I can guarantee you it was very good I didn’t have skeletons in my closet when I was running for president,” he said, as the audience responded with applause.

The I stands for insight, he said. “A smart person can learn from all the bad things that happen in someone else’s life. The same goes for a nation,” he said. 

“I am very hopeful that some of you will get in positions of responsibility and will be able to think about those who came before you. What kind of shape would we as Americans be in if those who preceded us had been as fiscally irresponsible as we are today?”

The N is for nice, he said. “You get so much more done when you’re being nice and they’re being nice,” he said. 

“How much more can we accomplish when we work together as opposed to being in opposition” to one another?

The K is for knowledge, the B is for books and the I is for In-depth learning, he said. He concluded with G, which stands for God, he said. “We live in a society that is trying to kick God out,” he said. 

He concluded by saying that he plans to meet with residents of North Carolina regarding the “bathroom law” supported by many conservatives. 

“Forget about science. It doesn’t matter what anatomical equipment you have, and it doesn’t matter what your genetics say. It only matters what you think you are,” Carson said.

“This is the direction we are moving in as a nation. That doesn’t mean that we don’t feel compassion and we don’t try to do everything we can to accommodate everyone. But there is an actual reason that God gave us a brain, so that we can actually think,” he said.

Carson has written nine books, four of which were coauthored with his wife of 40 years, Candy. The couple, who are Palm Beach County residents, also are cofounders of the Carson Scholars Fund, which recognizes young people of all backgrounds for exceptional academic and humanitarian accomplishments.

Also chosen to speak at Saturday’s ceremony were two of this year’s outstanding graduates, Carly Chapman of Zionsville, Indiana, and Korey Bricker of Ocala, Florida.

Chapman is a childhood cancer survivor who earned a degree in medicinal and biological chemistry. She plans to continue her education and hopes to work someday in a children’s hospital.

She spoke about the importance of community, reminding her classmates that as they start a new chapter of their lives, surrounded by new people and new places, “it is now our responsibility and our privilege to create communities to encourage, inspire, challenge and heal those around us.”

Bricker spoke about a scripture verse that means a great deal to her and that is now engraved on her stethoscope. In Luke 8:54 Jesus heals a sick child and says to her, “My child, get up!” 

“Congratulations, graduates, on the accomplishments and life lessons you leave here with today,” she said. “But I implore you to use them to help others to get up rather than yourself.”

Also during the program, Dr. Catherine Jarrard Coggins, a former member of the University’s Board of Trustees, gave the invocation, and the Rev. David Miller, lead pastor of Southpointe Baptist Fellowship in Leesburg, Florida, gave the benediction.