A week after graduating from Corvallis High School with honors in 2007, William Davis was in a car accident. The crash left him with brain damage and memory loss, and college became a distant dream.

Seven years later, Davis sits on the steps of Main Hall at the University of Montana, looking over the Oval on a sultry spring afternoon. Finals are wrapping up and the students blow off steam tossing Frisbees, walking slack lines and sleeping in the sun.

“It helped me grow up a lot,” Davis said of his time at UM, considering the playful scene before him. “Once I graduate, it’ll sink in a little more. I guess it is an achievement.”

Davis, who was born in Livingston and grew up in Corvallis, will graduate this weekend with a bachelor’s degree in finance. Finishing college stands as an achievement in itself, but doing it in a field requiring math may be the biggest turn of his story.

The car accident occurred south of Corvallis and left Davis with a severe head injury, impacting his memory, personality and mathematical abilities. He spent the summer of 2007 recuperating, and in the process, he gave Montana Tech a try that fall.

But Davis fell ill and dropped out – his injuries hadn’t fully healed. He was listed as a disabled student when he enrolled at UM in the fall of 2008. He wouldn’t drive for five years and living closer to family helped.

“I was going to be an environmental engineer in Butte, but it wasn’t quite the right decision for me,” Davis said. “I moved over here and thought about what I’d like to do. My dad has always been in business, so I thought that would be a good route.”

Of all the business fields, Davis set his sights on finance, calling it the most interesting choice. As he put it, he didn’t want a low-paying and repetitive job. The required math was intimidating at first, but he found the means and focus to overcome.

“It was always hard for me after the accident, dealing with the memory stuff – remembering formulas and specific figures,” he said. “I picked one of the most difficult programs at the university, and it took me a little longer than I should have been here.”

Like many students, the added time he spent at the university wasn’t the result of incompetence, but rather, it stemmed from finding direction. He took more credits than he needed to, seeking out areas that inspired him.

While exploring his future, he found inspiration in business, making his father proud.

“There were many bumps along the way – many class failures, personality clashes, dealing with his post-traumatic stress disorder and a brain injury,” his father, Brad Davis, said in an email. “Yet he never once considered himself disabled and he continued on to be able to graduate.”

Davis shrugs off questions about the accident and his will to persevere. The accident changed him once, he said, and completing college changed him again.

The reality of graduating has yet to sink in.

“I think I’ve done pretty well,” Davis said. “Some of the professors, I didn’t agree with their beliefs and so forth. But it’s part of the experience. Everyone comes from a different background.”

Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, or at martin.kidston@missoulian.com.

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