After struggling with addiction for 35 years and serving multiple prison stints, a former Harlem drug dealer has reason to celebrate: He’s now a college graduate. David Norman, 67, earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Columbia University last Wednesday, making him the oldest member of his graduating class.
“It was a great feeling,” Norman told the New York Daily News on Sunday. “I’m just now starting to come down from my little high.”
Norman, who says he started drinking when he was 11 and started using heroin when he was 15, got into trouble with the law for the first time in 1967 and eventually caught a manslaughter charge three decades later after stabbing a man. His lengthy rap sheet also includes arrests for drug trafficking, robbery, and more.
“I had a moment of clarity in which 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,” Norman told the Daily News, adding that he gravitated toward books and even started learning Hebrew.
After securing a job as an outreach worker at Mount Vernon Hospital upon his release in 2000, Norman was accepted into Columbia’s School of General Studies. Though he was decades older than most of his classmates, Norman didn’t sweat it. “I had a good rapport with the young people because they always amazed me,” Norman said.
Norman, who now works as a research assistant at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health and plans to pen a book about his journey, has one simple phrase for those who find themselves in a similar situation: “It’s always possible to pursue your dreams.”