David Norman, 67, graduated from Columbia University with his bachelor’s degree in philosophy after beating insurmountable odds, becoming the oldest graduate at this year’s ceremony on May 16.
According to CNN, the average age of this year’s graduating class is 29.
The Harlem native overcame a very troubled past. As a teen, he fell into a life of crime and according to the New York Daily News, was drinking by the age of 11 and addicted to heroin at the age of 15.
“I had a 35-year run with addiction,” he told the Daily News.
Norman was arrested multiple times during the course of his life, but after serving time for manslaughter, he decided to make a change.
“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 said.
After leaving prison, he worked at Mount Vernon Hospital helping substance abusers.
“That job changed my perspective. It let me know that I have something to offer…I decided I would devote my time to working toward something bigger than myself,” he told CNN.
For the past 20 years, Norman has remained drug-free and currently works as a research assistant at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. According to CNN, he continues his work as a substance abuse advocate, devoting his time to those who struggle with addiction.
Social media quickly jumped on the story, taking issue with the CNN headline mentioning Norman’s troubled past.
Despite the controversy, Norman says life is looking up:
“When my perspective changed, my life changed. Whatever happens outside has to begin inside.”