When Marine Corps heavy machine gunner Erik DeGiorgi returned to his native Ply­mouth in 2005, the South Shore town seemed nearly as for­eign as the end­less val­leys his unit cleared in Afghanistan.

I had changed. I didn’t know how to even com­mu­ni­cate with my friends and family here,” he said. “Our unit in Afghanistan, we were the first ones there. Our job was to push north and gain ter­ri­tory, and it was just day-​​to-​​day. Coming back was an extreme change and I didn’t know how to deal with it . . . I was hugely adrift.”

But on Sat­urday, DeGiorgi stood at a podium in front of fellow vet­erans and high-​​level polit­ical leaders as an Ivy League stu­dent, a suc­cessful entre­pre­neur, and the point person of a new state ini­tia­tive to help Massachusetts’s roughly 8,500 stu­dent veterans.

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