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.
Pass It On®
Tina from Georgia NOVEMBER 14, 2020
Debra from Columbus, GA AUGUST 7, 2019
Kate from ,Astoria,NY OCTOBER 22, 2017
Wow this is so amazing.
zoey from ohio OCTOBER 11, 2017
chic from hfguyfv DECEMBER 6, 2016
its so cute
Bernadine from Dodge City Kansas NOVEMBER 15, 2016
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!
lola from Tx OCTOBER 28, 2016
Inspiring! I turned 49 Oct 27 and will finish my associates degree next semester.
Anonymous OCTOBER 11, 2016
Lukas Burns from USA OCTOBER 11, 2016
motivational stuff go girlfriend!
Kavin Sampath from TRMMS, East Hartford MARCH 17, 2016
This is Amazing!!! GO GRANDMA!!!
SA from Lexington, MA AUGUST 17, 2014
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.
G E B from St Paul MN MAY 20, 2014
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.
Anisa from Bahrain APRIL 15, 2014
I love your story because it is remind me that nothing is impassible if we insist to do it.
Connery Cateni from Manchester,CT TRMMS MARCH 4, 2014
wow! i can't belive she got out of school at age 98 and lived over 100 years, not many people can do that.
A.E. from Phoenix, AZ FEBRUARY 25, 2014
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!
Jet from KS OCTOBER 28, 2013
I wish she was my grandma! ;)
JOANNA KNIGHT from BALTIMORE SEPTEMBER 27, 2013
MY 11 YEAR OLD DOES NOT BELIEVE SHE WAS 95. SHE SAY SHE IS 60YO. WHAT AN INSPIRATION.
Deborah Coleman from Georgia JUNE 3, 2013
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,
Jannell E. from KCMO APRIL 9, 2013
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
Amazed from CT FEBRUARY 4, 2013
This is so amazing, yet I can relate. My grandmother recently got her doctorate after years and she is 54. So inspiring!
Selena R. from California AUGUST 1, 2011
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!
Brianna from Kansas MAY 13, 2011
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!
Isabella from Germany MAY 9, 2011
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!
jtsct,v from georgia NOVEMBER 30, 2010
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.
Kathleen P. from Glendale, NY SEPTEMBER 15, 2010
I'm presently getting my Bachelor's degree in Psychology at age 55, and am planning to continue on for a Masters in Marriage and Family Counseling. This billboard was posted along the highway to where I would visit my daughters. It has been an inspiration to me!
Alicia G. from Riverside, Ca JULY 29, 2010
I am a 25 year old elementary school teacher with a Master's Degree. I was recently laid off due to state budget cuts, and have wavered in my decision to go back to school for nursing or graphic design. I keep telling myself that at this point, I am too old to start over, and too far into my own career field to start a new one...how silly I feel for thinking these thoughts after hearing about Nola!
Thank you Nola for showing us all that it is never too late!
Karl R. from Windsor, Canada JULY 1, 2010
You're Incredible, Nola!
The World is Blessed with Your Presence!
Aruna J from Mumbai, India MARCH 4, 2010
This is fantastic, I am 40 and wondered whether its time to give up or pursue something. Nola's article is complete inspiration, I will enroll to much awaited program of my dream. Thank you.
Edna from Zambia NOVEMBER 6, 2009
I am 49 years old pursuing an MBA programme and I thought I was getting old to study. Truly age does not matter if you believe in your self. Congrats Nola!
Kirthishri M.V. from Bangalore, India OCTOBER 28, 2009
We are never too old learn....everyday is a new learning. What an inspirational story. Thanks for posting.....
Devin S. from Adrian, Michigan OCTOBER 21, 2009
What an inspirational story.
Mercedes W. from Baton Rouge, LA JUNE 30, 2009
I love seeing this billboard. It is so inspiring. She wasn't afraid to go back to school no matter how old she was. She is also inspiring because of her age and how long she has lived.
Diana H. from PA, USA JUNE 1, 2009
Nola Ochs inspired me, also a non-traditional student, to complete a Master Program in Social Work. In the fall of 2007 I was considering on withdrawing from a difficult program, at a near by university, when I saw Nola Ochs' picture on a billboard on Route I-76. Nola's picture was the force that drove me to finish and graduate from the program obtaining a Master Degree in May 2009. Nola, I sincerely thank you.
Mili C. from Jefferson city, Missouri MAY 18, 2009
This is a good message for all the people who think that it is too late to make a dream real. Sometimes you feel like you have given everything or that it is too late for something you wanted to do.
Don't include that word never in your vocabulary... NEVER SAY NEVER.
If you have a dream that you want to make real, today is a perfect day to start building it up.
Dale & Irene S. from Federal Way, WA MARCH 11, 2009
Congratulations Nola. You are an inspiration to all who know you. We consider it a privilege to have known you for so many years. Keep up the good work.
Karen H from Nova Scotia FEBRUARY 5, 2009
Congratulations! You are an inspiration :)
Giannina C. from Portland, Oregon JANUARY 22, 2009
Many people always say "he is too old for college" or "she is too old to start a career" I always tell them...what?! this is the USA, there isn't age limitations in universities, there is not a single policy in college that prohibits students of certain age to attend. The only ones saying that are the people who always find excuses to avoid having to work hard to complete a curriculum and obtain a degree in college. I always tell them, Nola Ochas did it at 95,drop those excuses.
She is my hero!
Sydney D. from Renfrew, Ontario JANUARY 12, 2009
I always thought that Nola started school earlier but I guess I was wrong.
Dawn O. from East Greenwich, RI DECEMBER 9, 2008
I pass this billboard at least 4 times a week and it not only make me smile, but inspires me. Congratulations, Nola! You Rock!
Shay K from USA OCTOBER 29, 2008
Wow she doesn't even look that old- that's really cool.
Henry M. from Riverside, CA OCTOBER 8, 2008
A million salute to you Nola! You are the epitome of persistence, perseverance, & confidence. A magnificent example of success & very, very inspirational. I hope they make a movie about you someday because in my world, you are the ultimate celebrity. Thank you.
Joanna H. from Bay City, Michigan SEPTEMBER 30, 2008
I will take your example to heart and "live life." Thank you for that message to pass on to others.
Joanna H. from Bay City, Michigan SEPTEMBER 30, 2008
Thanks Nola, you are an inspiration to me. I have had a dream to be a teacher. In order to complete that dream I need a degree. Never give up.
Tayna T. from OREGON SEPTEMBER 11, 2008
That makes me want to go to college.
Joe C. from Chicago, IL SEPTEMBER 7, 2008
This billboard was recently at a bus stop on the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Most of us who go to UIC are first generation college students from working class backgrounds. I can only imagine the number of 5, 6, and 10 year plan students Nola Ochs helped bolster by her presence!
As an adult who returned to college after a 15 year absence, I salute you Nola! Congratulations!
Celeste B. from Portland, OR SEPTEMBER 6, 2008
Congratulations on "passing it on" ...It worked for me! (age 58 felt old before billboard, felt young after).
Donna J. from Vancouver, WA AUGUST 15, 2008
What an incredible lady! And a true testament to what good an education can be. Go Nola!
Le from Los Angeles AUGUST 11, 2008
This teaches me to never give up. Very inspiring!
Ella M. from Utah AUGUST 8, 2008
When you add life experience to education the result is more powerful than what we could attain by the education we receive in our 20's. You are an inspiration Nola!
Barbara L. from Levittown, NY AUGUST 5, 2008
Nola, What an inspiration you are! You go girl!
Shawna A. from Escanaba, MI, USA AUGUST 5, 2008
I plan on sharing this story with my special education students who are capable but just need more time. My hope is that you inspire them to keep going! Bles you and good luck!
Michelle R. from New York AUGUST 5, 2008
Nola- You truly are an inspiration. I could not have read this at a better time. I have hit a patch of discouragement thinking could of-should of-would of and I am only 33. There are many past events in my life that have scared me a bit and sometimes my mind gets consumed by them and I feel so discouraged as if my time is running out and everything should have been done by now. Society seems to set expectations that you should be this by a certain age or you should have done this by this age; after reading your story I truly believe that age is just a number and there are no limits unless we set them for ourselves. Thanks you Nola, you truly have sparked inspiration in me to keep pursuing my dreams and continue to keep learning. You Rock Nola! Keep learning; keep taking life by the reins. You have made history with your story and I am so thankful that I read it.
SIABANA K. from Zambia, Southern Africa AUGUST 5, 2008
You are an amazing woman and a source of inspiration to the young at heart.
As an African living in Zambia am so proud of your achievements and you have made me to look at life positively. Congratulations and all the best in your life.
Joleen B. from Fort Hays State University, Hays, Kansas JULY 24, 2008
I am so proud of Nola and blessed to have served as her undergraduate advisor...She remains a dear friend to me!
Mara B. from Georgia JULY 9, 2008
Go Nola Go!!! You rock!!!! Thank you for being such an inspiration.
Gaylord Gonzales from Manila JUNE 30, 2008
You can go as far as your mind lets you. Believe and you can achieve.
Rhonda S. from Jetmore, Kansas USA JUNE 5, 2008
Nola- You are an inspiration to our community of Hodgeman County, Kansas!
Rebekah H. from Salt Lake City, Utah JUNE 4, 2008
Amazing. What an inspiration to so many people, myself included. I am just speechless and I will keep going to school... and keep trying. Nola, thank you so much for sharing your story and you will remember you the rest of my life. How amazing to believe in yourself so much to make this kind of a dream come true. Bless you. Thank you...
Sarah O. from Bolivar, Missouri MAY 30, 2008
So proud of you, Grandmother! I'm so blessed to be your granddaughter!
Bob L. from FHSU Foundation, Hays, KS MAY 29, 2008
Nola, Congratulations on your graduation and further study. You make all of us here at Fort Hays State University so very proud.
Patti W. from Massachusetts MAY 16, 2008
winners never quit and quitters never win. Bless you.
Diane P. from Massachusetts APRIL 21, 2008
I am so inspired! Congratulations!
Bonnie M. from Washington State MARCH 31, 2008
Cousin Nola--You are an inspiration to us all. And you are going back for more studies. Congratulations!
Lady Samm from Toronto MARCH 17, 2008
Nola Ochs, you inspire me. You are no doubt living your life to the fullest and through your glowing smile and spark. You are a reminder to us all that age is just a number.
Patricia D. from Utah, USA MARCH 10, 2008