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World War II Navy veteran finally gets Amherst College degree

  • Amherst College graduates walk in the processional during commencement Sunday on the college's quadrangle.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Amherst College graduates walk in the processional during commencement Sunday on the college's quadrangle.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Arthur Ourieff, 89, waits for commencement to begin Sunday at Amherst College. The World War II Navy veteran received a B.A. that was interrupted when he served.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Arthur Ourieff, 89, waits for commencement to begin Sunday at Amherst College. The World War II Navy veteran received a B.A. that was interrupted when he served.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst College graduates walk in the processional during commencement Sunday on the college's quadrangle.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Amherst College graduates walk in the processional during commencement Sunday on the college's quadrangle.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Members of the Amherst College Choral Society greet graduates as they join the group during commencement exercises Sunday on the college's quadrangle.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Members of the Amherst College Choral Society greet graduates as they join the group during commencement exercises Sunday on the college's quadrangle.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Members of the Amherst College Choral Society sing the national anthem during commencement Sunday at Amherst College.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Members of the Amherst College Choral Society sing the national anthem during commencement Sunday at Amherst College.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst College President Carolyn "Biddy" Martin recognizes members of the faculty during commencement Sunday at Amherst College.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Amherst College President Carolyn "Biddy" Martin recognizes members of the faculty during commencement Sunday at Amherst College.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst College graduates walk in the processional during commencement Sunday on the college's quadrangle.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Arthur Ourieff, 89, waits for commencement to begin Sunday at Amherst College. The World War II Navy veteran received a B.A. that was interrupted when he served.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Amherst College graduates walk in the processional during commencement Sunday on the college's quadrangle.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Members of the Amherst College Choral Society greet graduates as they join the group during commencement exercises Sunday on the college's quadrangle.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Members of the Amherst College Choral Society sing the national anthem during commencement Sunday at Amherst College.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Amherst College President Carolyn "Biddy" Martin recognizes members of the faculty during commencement Sunday at Amherst College.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

When the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, launched the United States into World War II, Amherst College student Arthur J. Ourieff was faced with a choice — join the fight right away, or finish his education first.

As it turned out, he was able to apply for a Navy program that would allow him to continue his studies and serve his country simultaneously. In January 1943 he applied to Harvard Medical School for the following year, and was taken by surprise when he was accepted for immediate admission instead, as the school could not guarantee a spot the next year.

After powering through a yearlong organic chemistry course in only 28 days, Ourieff was left Amherst College to attend Harvard, where he received a medical degree three years later and went on to serve in the Navy Medical Corps. There he treated his comrades for “shell shock” — a condition now known as post-traumatic stress disorder — and then went on to a career in psychiatry.

The 89-year-old Ourieff, who now lives in Los Angeles, joined the 467 graduating students of the Class of 2013 at the 192nd Amherst College commencement Sunday to finally receive — accompanied by a standing ovation — the bachelor of arts degree that was more than seven decades overdue.

“Like so many members of his generation, Arthur Ourieff was willing to alter the course of his education and his life to serve his country in the 2nd World War. He decided to cut his undergraduate education short so he could enroll in Harvard Medical School as a uniformed Navy seaman,” said Amherst College president Carolyn “Biddy” Martin. “Through it all, he has maintained an appreciative connection to Amherst and so at long last, Amherst College confers upon Dr. Arthur Ourieff the honorary degree of bachelor of the arts.”

Also on Sunday, honorary doctorates of humane letters were awarded to social reform leader and 1982 graduate Madeline P. Janis; Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran and 1998 graduate Paul Joseph Rieckhoff III; composer and music producer Jim Steinman of the class of 1969; and Diana Chapman Walsh, who served as the 12th president of Wellesley College from 1993 to 2007.

Frederic Bryant Hollister, of the class of 1987, received an honorary doctorate of music for his critically acclaimed career as a musician and performer. Civil rights attorney Barry Charles Sheck — founder of The Innocence Project, a nonprofit with the goal of preventing wrongful convictions — was awarded a honorary doctorate of laws, and 1971 graduate Robert Yarchoan received an honorary doctor of science degree for his role in developing the first effective therapies for HIV.

Two graduates from the class of 1963, Alan S. Bernstein and Kent W. Faerber, were awarded medals of eminent service. Bernstein was honored for his service to the college in a number of volunteer roles over the past five decades, while Faerber was instrumental in the establishment of the Emily Dickinson Museum in 2003.

Martin followed the presentation of the honorary degrees with a speech highlighting the achievements of the graduating class through a litany of statistics.

“There are 467 of you. You will earn the 31,912th through the 32,378th degrees ever given from Amherst College; together, you represent 1.44 percent of all Amherst graduates,” said Martin. “Your top majors are economics, history, political science, English, psychology, followed by biology.

“You hail from 43 states and 37 different countries,” she added.

She also acknowledged a number of students who received fellowships to continue their studies, including Amherst Regional graduate Keri Lambert who is a Watson Fellow.

English and theater major Reilly A. Horan delivered the student address in which she provided advice on figuring out how to lead a happy post-college life. She shared recollections of her time at Amherst College ranging from walking into the wrong dinner event to the perils of dormitory laundry rooms.

“My big takeaway is this — while I’m dealing with my problems and insecurities and dreams, so are other people. That makes me more in charge of my own happiness than I ever thought I was. And once I learned that little bit of self-love, I found it far easier to care of others, as well,” Horan said. “The good stuff comes when you stop frantically looking around while you tread water and realize that you’re already buoyant and start swimming.

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