In 2007, Nola Ochs became the world’s oldest college graduate when she graduated from Fort Hays State University (FHSU) at the age of 97. Born on November 22, 1911 in Jetmore, Kansas, Ochs first began her college career in 1930 at Kansas State College. Eventually, she left school behind to start a family with her husband Vernon. Overtime, Ochs realized that there was something missing from her life; that something was a college degree. After her husband passed away in 1972, Ochs enrolled herself into a community college. She spent several years taking a variety of courses here and there. In the fall of 2006, Ochs was only 30 credit hours shy of earning a degree.
Boldly, Ochs decided to move 100 miles away from her family. She enrolled herself into Fort Hays State University and rented a tiny college apartment. Suddenly, she was living amongst college kids, as well as her 21-year-old granddaughter who was also a student at FHSU at the time. Despite her age, Ochs felt right at home. During an interview with NBC News in 2007, Ochs said, “Everybody has accepted me, and I feel just like another student.” Making new friendships, Ochs was on her way to earning a general studies degree with an emphasis on history.
In the same interview, Ochs stated, “I don’t dwell on my age. It might limit what I can do. As long as I have my mind and health, it’s just a number.” And it was with that mindset that Ochs graduated from college in the spring of 2007. Her accomplishment sparked a bit of attention, as she was invited to appear on The Early Show, MSNBC, CBS News and The Tonight Show to talk about her success.
But for Ochs, obtaining a bachelor’s degree wasn’t the last thing on her to-do list. Refusing to let her mind sit idle, she returned to FHSU in August of 2007 with her eye on a master’s in Liberal Studies. Sure enough, at 98 years old, Ochs accomplished her goal. Following her success, she took a position as a Graduate Teaching Assistant at FHSU. In 2011, she turned 100 and began writing her first book.
Tom Nelson, chief operating officer of the American Association of Retired Persons, had this to say about Ochs: “We should all be so lucky and do such amazing things. Her achievement challenges us all to reach for our own goals and dreams.” Nola Ochs is living proof that it is never too late to chase after a long-lived dream or goal that you may have. With her in mind, it becomes clear that there is no beginning or end to learning. Feeding our minds with knowledge is something that we must always continue to do, no matter our age.
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