Suzanne Stricker (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

Suzanne Stricker (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

Suzanne Stricker’s siblings were so proud of her college graduation that they traveled 7,000 miles to attend the ceremony.

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Her brother, sister and brother-in-law flew from New Zealand, where Stricker was born and raised, to Dallas as a surprise. At 80 years old, Stricker was the oldest University of Texas at Dallas student to graduate this May.

“I was in line with all the other people doing their thing,” she says. “Walking across the stage was a big moment. I could see my family.”

Her bachelor’s degree in visual and performing arts was, in some ways, unexpected. Stricker had devoted about eight years to taking classes as a hobby.

“I took two classes at a time, and it all added up,” she says.

After years of working, Stricker sought a productive way to occupy her newfound free time. She took advantage of UT Dallas’ tuition waver, which allows people ages 65 and older to take six credit hours each semester for free.

Stricker — who briefly attended the Westmont College in Santa Barbara in her 20s  — became a student once again in 2011.  As a longtime piano player, Stricker favored classes that focused on the arts, such as children’s literature. Initially, writing essays proved to be daunting, especially since it wasn’t emphasized when she was in high school.

“Here, you get trained in writing essays,” she says. “It was difficult to get into that.”

The night before her commencement ceremony, Stricker’s children took her out to pizza, and that’s where she saw her siblings for the first time in several years.

“I had received a congratulations card from my sister,” she says. “I think she mailed it to throw off the scent.”

Despite the excitement of the ceremony and her family visiting, Stricker says she hasn’t processed that she graduated. She’s already re-enrolled at UT Dallas to take more classes, and her family and friends keep asking her when she’ll receive her master’s. In the meanwhile, she’s in the midst of German language classes and keeping up with Jazzercise to stay in shape.