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She's older and wiser: Getting a degree at 95

Nola Ochs is poised to become world's oldest college grad.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Sometime in her 80s, Nola Ochs stopped counting birthdays. She'd still have her cake every Nov. 22, and maybe even a little ice cream. Family would stop by and wish her a happy day, but there'd be no talk about her age.

"Until I came up to Fort Hays," Ochs said. "They all know I'm 95 around here."

And now so does the rest of the world.

In two weeks, Ochs is scheduled to earn a degree in history from Fort Hays State University in Kansas and become the world's oldest college graduate. At 95, she's five years older than Mozelle Richardson was in 2004 when she received a journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma.

"I didn't feel like I was doing anything someone else hadn't done," said Ochs, who grew up on a farm in Hodgeman County in southwest Kansas. "But I sure am enjoying all of this."

Before Ochs, who is a great-grandmother, becomes a Guinness World Record-holder, she has course papers to finish and plenty of studying to do. Not to mention all the media she has to contend with.

"You're my 11th call," Ochs said last week in a telephone interview from her apartment on campus.

For two semesters, Ochs has walked the halls and campus with many students about a fifth her age, including her granddaughter, also set to graduate. She has researched papers online, written reports held up as model work by professors, and relived history for other students in history class.

"She's so engaged and sharp at any age," said Shala Mills, an associate professor teaching a political-issues course Ochs is taking this semester. "She's so serious about her education."

Ochs will agree with that.

"I work like a beaver," she said. "When finals come, I work like two beavers."

Ochs, a 1929 graduate of Dodge City (Kan.) High School, began her higher education in 1978. One day she saw a flyer advertising classes at the community college. Her husband had passed away a few years before, and maybe she would take a class, she figured.

Without realizing it, nearly a decade later she had almost all the credits she needed to graduate from Dodge City Community College. All she needed was an algebra class. She got it, and the degree, in 1988.

She remembers then wanting to graduate from a four-year college. At age 76 she took the ACT for the first time. She doesn't remember her final score.

"I do remember them commenting that I had done quite well in arithmetic," Ochs said.

She enrolled at St. Mary of the Plains, but after a year, the school closed. She eventually contacted Fort Hays and asked whether they would accept her transfer credits. They would.

Asked what she would do next, where this college degree would take her, Ochs laughed. She said she wanted a job on a cruise ship, as a storyteller. She could tell good stories there.


"Oh, probably not," she said, still laughing. She said more classes would likely be in her future, because "a learning situation makes me happy."