Eighteen-Year-Old Finishes Triple Major, Will Pursue Doctoral Degrees in Math and Physics
Raymond Walter discusses The Double Helix by James Watson in the History of Science Discussion Group at the University of Arkansas
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Raymond Walter was just a sophomore at the University of Arkansas when he was inducted into Phi Kappa Phi, the nation’s oldest, largest and most selective all-discipline collegiate honor society. The society’s motto — “let the love of learning rule humanity” — continues to appeal to him.
On Saturday, May 11, Walter will graduate with a bachelor of science degree in mathematics, physics and economics, a triple major in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences. He is accomplishing the feat at age 18.
What makes his accomplishment even more impressive is that he has a severe form of muscular dystrophy that forces him to use a motorized wheelchair.
“I really do just love learning,” said Walter, who was just 14 when he graduated from high school. “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.”
Hal Walter, Raymond’s father, said his son spends nearly every waking moment outside of class at his studies.
“He goes to bed after midnight, every night,” he said. “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.”
Hal Walter is familiar with his son’s routine because he has lived with him on-campus since Raymond began attending the university. That’s because Hal is also Raymond’s caregiver.
Raymond has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a form of muscular dystrophy in which the muscles weaken and waste away. The disease, the most common childhood form of muscular dystrophy, affects one out of every 3,600 male infants and most must use a wheelchair by age 12. Breathing difficulties and heart disease usually start by age 20.
“I don’t anticipate living as long as usual,” Raymond said. “In some respects, there is a lot of pressure to get as much done as I can. I don’t waste time. I skipped three years of grade school and to some extent I’ve continued my acceleration since I reached the university level. I finished my undergraduate economics course work in my freshman year. So as a sophomore I began to take graduate courses.”
Danny Pugh, vice provost for student affairs and dean of students, got to know the Walters well in the last four years.
“I was blown away with Raymond from the first moment we met,” Pugh said. “Here was a brilliant young man who has embraced his academic pursuit from the moment he chose to come to this campus. He has never allowed challenges to stand in the way of his goal.
“Hal is my hero,” Pugh said. “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.”
In 2005, Hal Walter and his wife, Gail, relocated their family of five from Tabernacle, N.J., to a farm in north Arkansas. They own 193 acres in Baxter County, on which they raise cattle and pigs. The farm also includes six donkeys and two horses. During the school year, Hal and Raymond commute six hours round trip each weekend from Fayetteville to home.
When Raymond graduated from Mountain Home High School in 2009, he had earned both a Governor’s Distinguished Scholarship and a University of Arkansas Chancellor’s Merit Scholarship. He was also a National Merit Scholar.
“This wasn’t thrust upon us upon Ray’s graduation from high school,” Hal said. “Several years prior to that, we were well aware of what Duchenne muscular dystrophy meant. We rearranged our lives so I would be available to care for him. We just adapted.”
Raymond will continue his studies at the U of A in the Graduate School as a Distinguished Doctoral Fellow, which provides a minimum of $30,000 annually for up to four years. He also won a highly competitive $30,000 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship for the forthcoming academic year.
“Distinguished Doctoral Fellowships allow us to keep great minds in Arkansas, and Raymond is a perfect example,” said Todd Shields, dean of the Graduate School and International Education. “We are thrilled that he chose to continue his studies as a graduate student at the University of Arkansas.”
Raymond Walter will pursue separate doctoral degrees in math and physics, with an expected graduation date in 2017.
“I won’t have to do much coursework,” he said. “I’ll be free to do more research.”
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