This 91-Year-Old Earned a College Degree

Share this:

NORTH ANDOVER, Mass.—Take it from Harold Paragamian. You’re never too old to get an education.

Harold Paragamian, 91, displays the liberal arts degree he received from Merrimack College, North Andover. (Photo: Tom Vartabedian)

At an age when most people are infirmed or simply biding their time, this 91-year-old Methuen resident made it a point to graduate from Merrimack College with a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts.

Not only was Paragamian at the top of the 2015 graduating class in years, but he ranks up there as the oldest known grad in years, maybe ever.

It took him 25 years to achieve the goal, right after earning an associate’s degree from the same institution.

He wasn’t required to attend the commencement; instead, he was presented his degree by Dr. Christopher Hopey during a private ceremony inside the President’s Office with close friends looking on.

Paragamian was overwhelmed with pride and emotion.

“I never won a lottery or a vacation,” he said. “Those that did probably couldn’t boast of a college degree at my age. I dedicate the honor to my parents, who always encouraged me to make the most of my time and not be idle.”

Call it serendipity. Paragamian was attending a Christmas party last December at Merrimack College and struck up a conversation with Kathleen St. Hilaire, associate director of alumni.

Paragamian was taking courses all along but fell three credits short. Word got quickly to the president, who came over and put his hand on Paragamian’s shoulder.

“You’ve got nothing to worry about,” Dr. Hopey told the man. “We’ll make it happen.”

Thus, Paragamian made up the credits with a community service project that sent him to area high schools lecturing to students about World War II. His was a story that may not have appeared in textbooks. A similar talk he gave at Kiwanis Club was equally mesmerizing.

Harold Paragamian when he was in the U.S. Army during the 1940’s

Beneath the surface is a humble U.S. Army veteran who spent 14 months in the European Theater at places like Normandy and the Rhineland, earning four campaign stars and several anxious moments during his tour. For an 18-year-old enlistee out of high school, the experience was a daunting one.

“You wondered if you would ever come out of it alive,” he recalled. “There were some bitter days. Not only was it devastating to see your own men killed, it was also painful to see Germans die. The human element is very close to me.”

So was his military service, which spanned four decades as a civil service employee working in the Army Post Exchange at Fort Devens, Ayer, whether as a forklift operator or sales advocate before retiring in 1995.

“Through the grace of God, I have much to be thankful for,” he adds. “I count my blessings all the time. World War II veterans are dying every day. Hopefully, I can still make a small difference.”

Well, Paragamian did just that in 2001, following the terrorist attacks of September 11. He returned to Normandy to retrace his military roots. After taking a 25-minute train trip to St. Leu la Foret, he stood on the same streets where he once faced German gunfire.

He marveled at how much the town had changed from the time he helped liberate it with other members of the 113th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron. Without realizing it, he returned to a hero’s welcome.

“It brought back a flood of memories,” he recalled. “Strangers there greeted me with open arms and treated me like royalty. I had dreamed of visiting the town for many years. My age was not a factor. It was a mission I was determined to take.”

Not knowing where to go, Paragamian turned to a man on the street and explained his situation. The stranger quickly escorted him to the mayor’s office and explained who Paragamian was and what he was doing here.

As soon as the introduction was made, the mayor broke into a huge smile and had pictures taken in front of a World War II memorial.

In return, Paragamian gave the town official some of the shoulder patches he had worn on his army uniform. Upon his return home, he sent the town’s church a donation to express his gratitude for escaping the conflict—seven decades ago.

Pursuing his degrees was no easy matter. A job 32 miles away from home often met with a harried schedule. Rush home, grab a sandwich, and off to Merrimack. Paragamian was determined to get a college education. The bachelor’s was his coup de grace.

Paragamian still enjoys keeping in shape with walks and tends to a model train collection that takes him to auctions and hobby shops. As for the degree, no need to worry about getting a job. He’ll display it with pride and finally rest on his laurels.

The post This 91-Year-Old Earned a College Degree appeared first on Armenian Weekly.

Source: Armenian Weekly
Link: This 91-Year-Old Earned a College Degree