Her 105 years as a life-long learner is an inspiration to all of us.
I don't dwell on my age. It might limit what I can do. As long as I have my mind and health, age is just a number.”
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For many people, the “golden years” are a time to slow down and recall past achievements. Nola Ochs—a Guinness record holder as the world’s oldest college graduate at age 95—saw age as an opportunity to take on new challenges and satisfy unfulfilled goals.
Born in 1911 in Illinois, Nola always loved learning. She was a good student who graduated high school in 1929 and began college via correspondence course from Fort Hays State University in Kansas. After passing her teacher's certification exam, she taught in county schools for four years before marrying her husband, Vernon Ochs.
Soon, the realities of farming sidetracked any thoughts of furthering her education, though Nola lived a good, full life on the farm, raising four sons. She always yearned to learn more about the world she lived in, but not until after Vernon died in 1972 did Nola consider resuming her formal education.
"I just thought something off the farm would be fun,” she explained. “My first class was a tennis class at Dodge City Community College. That was in 1978, when I was 67."
On campus, Nola was undaunted by her youthful classmates. Her natural wit and down-to-earth charm helped her fit in easily with her fellow students, even though she had 13 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.
"The students on the campus accepted me. I enjoyed myself so much, that fall I enrolled in an agribusiness marketing class,” Nola said. “Really, I had no thought of ever graduating. For 10 years, I just took classes that were of interest to me, something that I would enjoy doing; mostly history and composition. And then one of the professors came to me and told me if I would take college algebra, I would have enough credit hours to graduate."
In 1988, at age 77, Nola received her associate degree from Dodge City Community College. Afterward, she was itching to achieve another goal.
“I still wanted to go to school. It was fun to go to classes. And if I had an assignment to do in the evening, that occupied my time in a pleasant way, you know,” she recalled.
She started out taking more classes at Dodge City but soon became more ambitious. She e-mailed an academic advisor at Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas, mentioning that she had taken a course from the university years earlier. After some digging, the advisor located a 3x5 card stored in the basement of the administration building stating that Nola had indeed been a student, in 1930. When the advisor e-mailed back, she asked, "Nola, how old are you?"
At first Nola took classes long distance, but eventually she moved 100 miles from her farm to live on-campus. As a student of history, Nola brought a refreshing perspective to her classes as she shared her personal experiences, and she became a favorite of both students and professors.
"I like to tell stories, you know,” Nola said. After graduation, she got to do just that when Princess Cruise Lines hired her as a guest lecturer on a nine-day Caribbean cruise.
For most people, graduating at age 95 with a 3.7 GPA might be enough of an accomplishment, but not for Nola. In May 2010, at age 98, Nola Ochs received her master’s degree, making her the oldest person to receive that distinction. As she celebrated her 100th birthday, Nola was taking more master’s-level classes while working as a graduate teaching assistant.
By the time Nola passed away in 2016, at the incredible age of 105, she had achieved her goal of writing a book about her life experiences. At one point in the process, when asked for her life advice, she said, “Buy the plane ticket!” She meant that people should take advantage of life’s opportunities and not wait until tomorrow.
All together, Nola left an incredible biography. As a teenager, she drove to school in a horse and buggy to her one-room schoolhouse. Then she survived the Great Depression and the dust storms of the 1930s on her small Kansas farm. Eventually, she traveled the world, raised a family with her beloved husband, and built a whole new life of pursuing her academic interests.
Nola’s dedication even brought her an appearance on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno and social media fame as the subject of the “senior freshman” viral meme. Everyone who had the good fortune to know her, or to hear about her remarkable story, can be inspired by her example of living life to the fullest.
Live Life. Pass It On!
This billboard about Live Life features Nola Ochs; oldest college graduate.
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its so cute
I have had the pleasure of knowing Nola for many years! She has always been an inspiration!! A very special lady!!! Keep going strong, Nola!
Bernadine, Dodge City Kansas
Inspiring! I turned 49 Oct 27 and will finish my associates degree next semester.
motivational stuff go girlfriend!
Lukas Burns, USA
This is Amazing!!! GO GRANDMA!!!
Kavin Sampath, TRMMS, East Hartford
Reading Nola's story is very inspiring. My mom turned 82 this year, and she decided to return to college and earn her Associate's degree in LIberal Arts. She transferred in credits from a university she attended over 40 years ago, so though she just began this summer, she has already completed one semester. Today she received her grade for the summer course she took -- "A."
She was so happy, as she had worked hard for it. The hardest part for her was getting over her fear that she might not be accepted because of her age, but her first class was a seminar all about college life and the student code of conduct, and she realized: she has the right to learn (as does every other student). This was a big breakthrough for her. So, on she goes, to her next class this fall. How long it will take to earn her degree, we don't know; she likes to take only one class at a time. But she does plan to graduate, someday.
SA, Lexington, MA
Yea, Nola. I intend to follow in her footsteps. Will find myself in Bratislava, Slovakia come fall to teach at Secondary Level Academy. Begin my life's work at 65.
G E B, St Paul MN
I love your story because it is remind me that nothing is impassible if we insist to do it.
wow! i can't belive she got out of school at age 98 and lived over 100 years, not many people can do that.
Connery Cateni, Manchester,CT TRMMS
This woman is unbelievably inspiring. I just recently decided to go to Law School at 46. I had a hard time deciding to finally do this, I kept telling myself I was too old & too poor. I want to work for Legal Aid & an Immigration Legal Clinic, to help families with members who were brought here as babies and don't know any other life can finally be accepted the way they see themselves, as Americans. The thought of this Grandma will carry me through the next 3 years. Thank you!
A.E., Phoenix, AZ
I wish she was my grandma! ;)
MY 11 YEAR OLD DOES NOT BELIEVE SHE WAS 95. SHE SAY SHE IS 60YO. WHAT AN INSPIRATION.
JOANNA KNIGHT, BALTIMORE
I got much encouragement from your story. I am 58, and have always, always wanted to be a nurse. I was accepted into nursing school 3 separate times over the years. The last time, I went to school for almost a year, then dropped out to, hopefully, save my marriage. It didn't. I left him a few months later because of abuse. I've spent the past 4 years getting my life back in order, and returning to nursing school is one of them. So, your story has shown me it can be done, and I plan on doing it very soon. Thank you,
Deborah Coleman, Georgia
Sometimes I feel like giving up but she said something here in this article and this is helping me and will continue to help. I worry so much about my age and if I should keep attending school but she said has shown me not to worry about my age. I also sometimes feel like I am going to be in school so long, that by time it is time for me to go out and get a job in my degree, either I'll be close to retiring or whatever, so this has shown me not to worry about all of that,but that I must keep going to school. And in the end no matter how old I am, it will pay off. Thank you Mrs. Nola
Jannell E., KCMO
This is so amazing, yet I can relate. My grandmother recently got her doctorate after years and she is 54. So inspiring!
Nola Ochs, you inspire me. After reading your story I am inspired to go back to college and finish my Bachelor degree in Fine Arts. You are an inspiration to us all!
Selena R., California
I am a student at FHSU where I too am a history major and have had the pleasure of running into Nola. She is truly a sweet person and an inspiration. When things get challenging for me trying to juggle 4 kids, school, work, life, etc. I always think of Nola and I am renewed with an "I can do it" attitude. Thanks for sharing her story with the rest of the world!
Truly an inspiration to me who at 51, wants to go back and get my dietican degree but for some reason just can't seem to get there. I want to show my GRANDDAUGHTERS that it is important to learn and also to never give up on your dreams. Thank you Nola!
Nola is truly an inspiration. I sometimes feel I'm too old at 38. Now I realize that as long as you have life you can pursue your biggest dreams.