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Columbia University's Oldest 2016 Graduate an Inspiration to Recovering Drug Users

  1. Beenthere2Hippie
    A 67-year-old former drug dealer who overcame his own heroin addiction and two separate stints in prison did something extraordinary last week: He graduated from an Ivy League college.

    David Norman, who was released from an upstate New York jail in 2000 after serving more than six years for stabbing a man to death in a street fight, received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Columbia University in New York City on Wednesday. “You know, we have a saying in the street, when people go to jail sometimes,” Norman told WBUR radio. “‘I wasn’t arrested, I was rescued,’ and that’s what happened to me.”

    In prison, he helped run a program that teaches life skills to inmates preparing to reenter society.

    “I had a moment of clarity in which I was able to recognize everything I had done at that point was fairly counterproductive and I needed to engage in some new activities and some new behaviors,” Norman told the Daily News. “I did a little inventory of myself to try to unearth what it was that led me astray in the beginning and what I need to do when I get home not to fall victim to this activity again.”

    After his own release from prison, Norman became an outreach worker at New York’s Mount Vernon Hospital, where he helped substance abusers get access to the services he didn’t have when he was growing up. Norman went on to become a staffer for a community health program at Columbia and enrolled in the school’s general studies program in 2006. He was the oldest member of Columbia’s graduating class.

    “I had a good rapport with the young people because they always amazed me,” Norman said.

    Currently a research assistant at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, Norman said has no immediate postgrad plans — other than writing a memoir. Working title: “You Don’t Have to Wait as Long as I Did.” Of course, Norman wasn’t the only ex-addict to overcome the odds this graduation season.

    Monica Careyette, a former meth addict who narrowly avoided jail time, graduated from Brandman University in Santa Maria, Calif., with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. “I was facing 10 years in prison,” Careyette told CBSLA.com. “I honestly did not care if I lived or died.”

    At Sunday’s graduation, she served as class speaker. “I am living proof that no matter how hard you fall, you can overcome and succeed,” Careyette told fellow graduates. “From drug addict to college graduate — dreams do come true.”

    But such inspiring stories can occasionally turn into cautionary tales. Last year, Corey Waller, a Louisville native who grew up homeless but went on to graduate from Harvard, was indicted on drug and weapons charges after police found between 200 and 400 pounds of marijuana inside a storage locker Waller was renting. “It was like someone socked me in the stomach,” former Louisville Councilwoman Denise Bentley, who helped mentor Waller as a teen, told WDRB-TV after his arrest. “As I said to Corey yesterday, you can always make lemonade out of lemons, and so I haven’t given up on him.”

    By Dylan Stableford - Yahoo/May 23, 2016
    Newshawk Crew

    Author Bio

    BT2H is a retired news editor and writer from the NYC area who, for health reasons, retired to a southern US state early, and where BT2H continues to write and to post drug-related news to DF.


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