You ever see something that makes you feel really good about humanity and really bad about yourself all at the same time? For me, it’s looking into a mirror, because mirrors do good things and they are good, but I don’t like what I see in them. Gah, even writing this story is making me sound less edumacated. Wonder Twin powers activate! Form of Raymond Walter!
Walter is one of the hardest-working students around, having graduated high school at age 14. Today, May 11, 2013, the 18-year old Phi Kappa Phi honoree will be graduating from the University of Arkansas’ J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences. Not only that, he’s graduating with a triple major in mathematics, physics, and economics. Now he’ll be attending Graduate School as a Distinguished Doctoral Fellow, so that he can earn his doctorates in math and physics. Holy shit, right?
Not all the news is good, however. Part of Walter’s drive is due to his suffering from Duchenne muscular dystrophy, the most common form of childhood MD in which the muscles weaken and waste away. It affects one out of every 3,600 male infants, and wheelchair use usually begins around age 12, with breathing difficulties and heart disease coming on around age 20. Worst of all, the life expectancy for those afflicted with DMD is around 25 years of age. Walter has probably already learned twice what your average 25-year-old knows. If knowledge was power, he would be getting my vote into office.
“I don’t anticipate living as long as usual,” said Walter. “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.”
His home life reflects this hunger for education, as father Hal says he doesn’t watch movies or play video games. “He sits at his computer with two desks’ worth of books open for 12 to 14 hours a day,” Hal says. A father to view in admiration, Hal lives with his son on campus as his caregiver, and the two men make the six-hour round trip every weekend to the Walter family’s 193-acre farm in Baxter County, where the week’s work gets done in two days.
“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.”
You know, we’re used to hearing about good things students do, and even the things students do for other students with muscular dystrophy, but this takes the cake. And the cake will have 19 candles on it the next time it’s used in celebration. Our hat of admiration goes off to the Walter family.