David Norman, a 67-year-old former Harlem drug dealer, sat at the front of the Columbia University commencement ceremony last week with tears of joy, ready to receive a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, the New York Daily News reports.
The oldest member of his class, he perhaps also cornered the market on the most exceptional life story: after a 35-year-long battle with substance abuse starting when he was 11, dropping out of high school after only a day, two prison stints and innumerable arrests, the newspaper reports, turning the tassel for Norman truly signifies turning the page in his life story.
“It’s always possible to pursue your dreams,” he told the Daily News.
The graduate, who was a research assistant at Columbia and a research interviewer at its Mailman School of Public Health, according to his LinkedIn profile, had his first stint in prison in 1967, the newspaper reports, his second 30 years later when he was charged with manslaughter after fatally stabbing a man in a street fight.
It was the six years he then spent in an upstate New York correctional facility that changed the course of his life, the Daily News writes. “I was able to recognize everything I had done at that point was fairly counter-productive and I needed to engage in some new activities and some new behaviors,” he told the newspaper.
In an interview with NPR’s WBUR.com, he said, “One of the problems I think with people who were formerly incarcerated is that politically, they are easy targets. Now that’s not to neglect their responsibilities in the crimes they committed, but if we’re attempting to make this a better society, we have to admit that we need to make people better, and regardless of what your past has been.”
This article was previously posted on college.usatoday.com.