It’s graduation season and while most college grads in their early twenties grasp tightly onto their single major with perhaps a minor or two, an 18-year-old University of Arkansas student received his bachelor of science for triple majoring in mathematics, physics and economics.
But his impressive degrees and age aren’t all that makes Raymond Walter unique. Walter’s intense love of learning has helped him overcome some of the physical challenges that have been sent his way as he has a severe form of muscular dystrophy. Walter plans to go on to complete double doctoral degree in math and physics at UA as well.
“I really do just love learning,” Walter said, according to the university press release. “I like to learn as much as I can. I am willing to work and I want to work and learn. There’s an element of ability, for sure, but it wouldn’t mean much at all if I didn’t work as much as I do.”
Walter is intensely aware the severity of his condition. He said this is, in part, why he is trying to accomplish so much.
“I don’t anticipate living as long as usual,” Walter, who graduated high school at at 14, said. “In some respects, there is a lot of pressure to get as much done as I can. I don’t waste time.”
Symptoms of Duchenne muscular dystrophy include muscle degeneration, which can result in the loss of the ability to walk by age 12, and learning disabilities. Walter clearly doesn’t suffer from the latter of these but he does use a motorized wheelchair. As the disease progresses, the National Institute of Health states that trouble breathing and heart disease can begin as early as age 20.
Walter’s father, Hal, who is his primary caregiver and lived on the university campus with his son, said he works incessantly to achieve his goals.
“He goes to bed after midnight, every night,” Hal Walter said, according to the press release. “He doesn’t watch movies. He doesn’t play video games. He sits at his computer with two desks worth of books open for 12 to 14 hours a day. He works constantly.”
The Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Danny Pugh called Hal Walter his hero.
“He and his family have changed their entire life to support Ray’s academic pursuits, including his living and caring for Ray on our campus and returning to their farm every weekend to pack in five days of work in two.”
The family’s official homestead is three hours away from campus (one way) and the men traveled home each weekend for a visit.
In his graduate studies, Walter was honored with a Distinguished Doctoral Fellow award from the university, which amounts to at least $30,000 each year for up to four years, and won what the university calls a “highly competitive” $30,000 fellowship from the National Science Foundation.