The untold graduation story: Ora Foster, 69, and her will to 'never give up'

UNT Dallas prides itself on welcoming a diverse student body. Our more than 3,750 students span just about every race, religion, economic background and, yes, even age.

Meet Ora Lee Foster, a member of UNT Dallas’ Fall 2018 graduating class. On Dec. 14, 2018, she beamed a smile as big as the Inspired Body of Christ auditorium as she practically glided across the stage. At age 69, she could call herself a college graduate.

“Sixty-nine-and-a-half,” Ora said proudly. “It was awesome. The person calling the names at graduation asked me how old I am. I said 69 ½, and he said can I announce it? When he announced it, the whole place just blew up.”

A standing ovation only seemed to proper to celebrate Ora earning a Bachelor’s of Arts degree from the School of Liberal Arts & Sciences, never missing a single day of class in her two years at UNT Dallas. When she first arrived, after earning her Associate degree at El Centro College, she didn’t know if she’d make it through the first day.

“I got to UNT Dallas and thought, ‘this is the big one,’” said Ora, who turns 70 on March 6 and said she will seek a position in office administration. “I was nervous because so there were so many young people and I was skeptical how I would be treated -- there was some fear in there! But, everybody was so nice and accepting; it seemed like I collected a whole lot of children real fast.

“I have some physical things with my knees, and they would help me go up the stairs and go across the street. It was like family. I got some good experiences at UNT Dallas. One day a young student bought me lunch by surprise, and she said you inspire me.”

Ora earned her GED in the 1970s and went off to work. She worked for the same Irving company for 25 years until her department’s quality control work was outsourced and employees were let go.

But, Ora said, the company agreed to help pay the costs for laid-off employees who wanted to go back to school – or in Ora’s case, to go to college for the first time. She enrolled at El Centro and graduated.

“I always wanted to go to college and I never if I would get that opportunity,” she said. “After I got may Associate degree, I was just going to go back home, but people encouraged me to go on. I took the challenge.”

She was able to fulfill that challenge because of the existence of UNT Dallas. Ora didn’t have the luxury of leaving the proximity of her DeSoto home.

“I don’t think I would have been able to do this anywhere else without leaving the area,” Ora said. “This journey I’ve been on, going back to school, it’s been awesome. I’m so glad I stuck in there, it’s the best thing that could have ever happened to me.

“I met good people, made good friends and family. Words cannot describe how my heart feels. I looked forward every day going to that school.”

Every day, Ora stuck to her guiding principle.

“Never give up. Never give up,” she said. “When I came in I was taking 15 hours, I’d be up late, and my husband would say, ‘you gonna tell them you’re not coming back?’

“I said, ‘no.’ good things come to those who wait and have patience.”