Starting early: Liberty Wing family members earns money for college

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Veronica A. Aceveda
  • 512th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Imagine being recognized in front of a crowd that was filled with role models such as world-renown neurosurgeon Ben Carson, military leader Colin Powell or Superbowl champion Jerome Bettis. The 10-year-old son of a Dover Air Force Base reservist did just that. 

Alden Tonkay, the son of Master Sgt. Jack and Laurie Tonkay, was awarded $1,000 from the Carson Scholars Fund, which was created by Dr. Benjamin Carson and his wife Candy. 

The grant is invested into a trust fund until the student begins a four-year college or university. They created the program to offer college scholarships to students based on high academic achievement and humanitarian qualities. 

Nicole Boris, Alden's fourth grade teacher at Major George S. Welch Elementary School, noticed he fit the criteria and initiated the application process. Students cannot apply for this award themselves. The Carson Scholarship can only be achieved through nomination from the school's principal, and each school is only allowed to select one student to compete for the opportunity. 

The fourth through 11th grade candidates do have to provide an essay to accompany their package. One of the topics they write about was to describe someone who inspires them. 

"I chose to write about my mom, because we do a lot of volunteer service together," said Alden, who participated in a recycling program last year which netted more than 30,000 aluminum cans. "My parents got me going, and the Lord likes me to do that kind of stuff. It's nice to give back." 

At his school, the fourth grader has collected donations for the United Service Organization, and he regularly reads to younger classes. 

Alden's patriotic vocal performance has been heard at the 512th Airlift Wing Picnic, the Modern Maturity Center and the Delaware State Fair. 

In addition to having a strong commitment to the community, Carson Scholar applicants must have a 3.75 grade point average or higher; Alden's GPA is 4.0. For the past three years, he has won the state of Delaware's math poster contest in the first through third grade category. 

Alden, who also likes to play sports, found out he was selected as the school's Carson Scholar representative when the school's principal announced it over the intercom in January. 

"Everyone clapped for me," said Alden, who added his family celebrated with his favorite dish of buttermilk fried chicken at a restaurant in Milford. 

After the initial announcement, the Tonkays were notified in April that Alden was selected as one of 531 recipients from across the country to receive the Carson Scholar Award for 2009. Of the 16 scholarships bestowed to Delaware students, only six were distributed to elementary school students like Alden. All winners were invited to attend a recognition banquet in Maryland, where Dr. Carson himself would attend. 

Alden actually did a report on Dr. Carson during African American History Month and was surprised to learn the surgeon, who is credited with the first successful separation of twins at the cranium, had a dark past. 

"I learned he had a rough childhood and people made fun of him, so he had a bad temper," said Alden. "You don't think that someone like that can turn out to be Ben Carson, but he prayed to the Lord to take away his anger." 

Dr. Carson also credits his childhood turnaround to reading, according to the Carson Scholars Fund website. His mother limited his television time and made him read two books a week and provide a report on each. 

A television movie, depicting Dr. Carson's life, was released this year. Cuba Gooding Jr. portrays Dr. Carson in "Gifted Hands." 

Also at the awards banquet April 26, was news anchor Sam Donaldson, who served as the master of ceremonies, and Retired General Colin Powell. 

"I never heard of (Colin Powell)," said Alden. "My daddy told me he was a four-star general. I think it's the second highest. I know five-star is the highest but practically impossible to get." 

While Alden said there were many cool things that came with this experience, like getting money for college and getting Jerome Bettis' autograph, he said the best part of the whole thing was being in the same room as Ben Carson. 

"The fact that Ben Carson and his foundation would take the time to honor Alden and all these kids is extremely special," said Alden's mom Laurie. "When the kids marched in with the medals around their neck, I was really proud of Alden; he was so self assured and confident. It got me teary-eyed for sure."