'Life of the mind': Math student graduates with doctorate from University of Montana

Skylar Rispens

Whenever Jack Finlay is looking at the ceiling you can almost certainly bet he’s working through a math problem.

For the past 15 years, he’s been moving through the ranks of academia at the University of Montana’s mathematical sciences program, all the while navigating challenges that come with being nearly 12 years into an amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) diagnosis.

“He stares at the ceiling because he can’t really do scratch work,” said Abby Finlay, Jack’s wife of six years. “So whenever I see his eyes going up, I know he’s thinking about math and imagining it on the ceiling.”

On Saturday, he’ll graduate from the university with a doctorate.

Jack was first diagnosed during his junior year of undergraduate studies in November 2010. He dreamed of becoming a doctor, but his diagnosis made him consider a different path.

“I thought I should find something that I could do without my hands,” Jack said.

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His decision to transition to a degree in mathematics caused some of his UM professors to reflect on their own passions.

“He chose the ultimate life of the mind in specializing in mathematics,” said Mark

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