News

Undergraduates Celebrate Second Consecutive Virtual Housing Day

News

Dean of Students Office Discusses Housing Day, Anti-Racism Goals

News

Renowned Cardiologist and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Bernard Lown Dies at 99

News

Native American Nonprofit Accuses Harvard of Violating Federal Graves Protection and Repatriation Act

News

U.S. Reps Assess Biden’s Progress on Immigration at HKS Event

Great Grandfather, Age 82, Graduates

By David B. Rochelson

John D. Ringby ’42-’03 took a leave of absence during his senior year at the College—and he ended it yesterday as a senior citizen.

Rigby, a World War II veteran and great-grandfather of two, returned yesterday to Kirkland House, his home from 1939-1941, to receive his bachelor of arts degree in English and American Literature and Language with the class of 2003.

Rigby took a leave of absence from the College in September of 1941—the beginning of what would have been his senior year—to enlist in the Navy. War seemed imminent, he said, and he wanted to get flight training before the experienced instructors got “thinned out” by a large influx of recruits.

He added that another reason to volunteer was his desire for “a little glamour and adventure.” Though he found plenty of adventure, he said, the glamour “didn’t last long.”

“It was an exciting time to live,” he said. “Or try to live, I guess.”

Rigby, who turns 83 June 13, said he assumed he would return to finish his degree after his four-year stint in the service.

But after spending three years as a flight instructor and a year in the radar room on a carrier in the Pacific, he charted a different course.

He “met a gal from St. Louis,” and with an opportunity there to enter the insurance business and a child on the way, the goal of finishing his senior year took a back seat.

The College had agreed to grant Rigby credit for his military training, but not enough—he fell one half-credit short of the minimum requirement for a degree, and he could never make it back to Cambridge to take that final class.

“I had a job and responsibilities, and that made it a little tough,” he said.

The degree was important, he added, but “not to the point of busting my neck for it.”

Then, last year, his son and son-in-law—both named Jim—urged him to finish his degree. After initial rejection, the College eventually waived the residence requirement, Rigby said. He conducted a course in American History via e-mail with Associate Professor of History Catherine A. Corman, completing the credit needed for his degree.

Rigby said he had intended to skip commencement exercises and get his diploma in the mail, but his children “insisted that we do this,” he said.

“I think they trapped me a little bit.”

After receiving his degree yesterday before waves of applause in the courtyard of his former dormitory, Rigby said he’s glad that his family made him make the trip.

“It didn’t really mean much until today,” he said.

Coral Fernandez-Illescas, Kirkland House Senior Tutor, said Rigby’s graduation “obviously means a lot to the House.

“It’s a great honor for us, and we’re thrilled to be participants in the family history,” she said.

Rigby, a native of Quincy, Mass., said the degree ceremony brought him back to New England, and he plans “to have kind of a lazy time” on an upcoming trip around the area. But the degree won’t have a major impact on his life.

“Life’s going to go on,” he said. “This just kind of ties up a loose end.”

—Staff Writer David B. Rochelson can be reached at rochels@fas.harvard.edu.

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.

Tags