A single mother and now University of North Texas graduate is beating the odds after nearly losing her life.
Darla Ray will get her degree at Friday's UNT commencement ceremony after becoming a well-known figure to many on campus.
Ray spent the last few years living in the dorms on campus and attending classes and study groups, though as a 49-year-old mother of two, she is clearly not the typical student.
Ray divorced when both of her daughters were still young and ended up going straight into the work world at a young age.
"I thought going to college, 'Eh, I don't need going to college,'" she said.
As her kids grew, though, and further education started to become a priority for Ray, life threw her an unexpected curve ball.
In 2009 she was diagnosed with dermatomyositis, a rare autoimmune disease that attacks the skin, muscles and vital organs.
"It was almost as though somebody took a blanket and just went 'whew' with my life and all the pieces scattered," said Ray.
Suddenly she was sick in bed, unable to walk and doctors told her she may not live to see either of her daughters graduate.
That's when Ray said living her life and bettering herself became a priority.
Equipped with a motorized wheelchair she named Hot Wheels, Ray began attending classes at Tarrant County College, and after two years she transferred to UNT, where her oldest daughter was a student and her younger daughter would soon attend.
Ray said she never expected to see herself, at this age, living in the dorms and going to school as an undergrad, but she embraced the experience – making friends and joining activities on campus.
The disease still creates issues for Ray as her fight against it continues, but despite the odds she watched last spring as her oldest daughter graduated from UNT and began her career. Her youngest, a sophomore, still has a few years to go.
After she graduates Friday, Ray will continue at UNT as a graduate student, studying rehabilitation therapy to help others going through tough times like she has.
"Every single day I walk out and I say, 'Hello world!'" Ray said.
Ray hopes to inspire others to push through tough times and keep fighting. And as for her future, she says she now plans to live to be 100 years old.