David Norman, a native of Harlem and a former heroin addict, has graduated from the Columbia University School of General Studies.
With a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, at 67 years Norman is the oldest graduate to earn a degree in the class of 2016.
The average age of a graduate in this year’s class is 29 years, according to CNN.
“Columbia University School of General Studies is dedicated to serving nontraditional students who want to pursue a traditional Ivy League education,” Christina Gray, communications officer at Columbia University, said. “And David Norman is but one example of the kind of exceptional students we serve.”
Norman had become involved in the world of crime and drugs when he was a teenager. In a press release, Norman talks about the days he used to sell drugs. “I was a very shy kid, and I was also selling narcotics, and in that capacity you were taught not to show feelings,” he said.”One of the things I realized early was that when I got high, I was able to function socially, which was one of my biggest problems.”
As someone who enjoyed reading, he talked about conversations he would have with inmates from neighboring cells during his incarceration in the year of 1968.
“They went to school and I didn’t, and we’d have these long discussions,” he said. “The guy on my right liked Shakespeare, and I didn’t know anything about him, and in turn I would talk to him about everything I had read, which included philosophy.”
After he was released from his last incarceration in 1995 (he was serving time for manslaughter), he volunteered for the following six years as a counselor for the transitional services program. Such was his dedication towards the program, which aims to provide tools to inmates to help them get back into the society, that he was promoted to a senior position, Columbia.edu notes.
“That job changed my perspective. It let me know that I have something to offer,” Norman said. “I decided I would devote my time to working toward something bigger than myself.”
He has had a drug free life for more than 20 years. “I remember a time when people would avoid me on the street, because of my attitude,” he said. “Now I smile and say hello to people and ask them how they’re doing. When my perspective changed, my life changed. Whatever happens outside has to begin inside.”