Dan Norman: From Beach Bum to Cowboy
He could have been sitting at the beach every day, sipping bushwackers or perhaps some rum punch while enjoying everything the U.S. Virgin Islands had to offer. The best part? While he enjoyed the tropical paradise, he would be earning a college degree. Instead, he ended up in the middle of nowhere at Oklahoma State University in the rural, agriculturally-focused town of Stillwater.
Dan Norman was accepted into the University of the Virgin Islands, and was excited to get his journalism degree and ultimately become a wartime correspondent.
“I originally applied because, at the time, one of my cousins had gotten married and were planning to move down there,” Norman said. “I thought it would be cool to live in a tropical paradise while going to school, then heading down to the beach every day. Plus, tuition is cheap and the drinking age is only 18.”
So how in the world did Daniel Kelley Norman become a Cowboy? Easy. He’s a Native American. Well, maybe it’s not so easy.
Norman was accepted into UVI, but he was hoping to use some scholarship money from the Gates-Millennium Scholars Program to help pay for school. This program was established by Bill and Melinda Gates to help minorities attend secondary education. Norman’s acceptance letter to UVI came two days after the application period for the program closed.
“I was devastated,” Norman said. “It sounds weird to say, since I was accepted into my dream college, but it’s true. As the only son of a single mother, we couldn’t afford UVI. We needed help.”
Norman has a bit of Creek Indian in his blood — 1/64 to be exact. Norman learned that a benefit of having Creek heritage is his tribe would help pay for his education. Even with the miniscule amounts of Native American heritage in his blood, the Creek Nation gives Norman $125 per credit he enrolls in each semester, plus a $700 bonus for each semester he earns a 3.0 GPA or higher. Combined with his other scholarships, Norman is able to attend college with no out-of-pocket costs.
(After hearing this, I picked my jaw up off the floor and called my mom to ask if I had any Native American blood in my history. She said no.)
“Without the Creeks, I would not be able to be in college right now,” Norman said. “Their support helps me realize that I need to work hard while I’m in school, because I wouldn’t be wasting my money, I’d be wasting the money of my tribe that they have generously given to me.”
Norman is from Tahlequah, and when he realized he wouldn’t be living life on the beaches, he looked to somewhere closer to home – Oklahoma State University.
“I really, really didn’t think I would stay in Oklahoma,” Norman said. “I knew I would not stay at (Northeastern State University) in Tahlequah, and I was going to do anything and everything to avoid that.
“So I put in my application to OSU, not even knowing we had one of the best journalism programs in the Midwest. I was accepted and enrolled, and it all worked out for the best I think.”
Dan’s mother, Michelle, said she terrified when she found out that Dan wanted to go to school in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and was relieved when he settled in Stillwater.
"I didn't know what I was going to do if he went that far," Michelle said. "So when he settled in Stillwater I was relieved. It's easier on me to go see him and easier for him to come see me."
Dan’s roommate, Jacob Pekrul, said while he hasn’t roomed with Norman for long, he already knows this is going to blossom into a full-fledged friendship.
“He and I share the exact same taste in music,” Pekrul said. “We love to sit out by the fire, listening to some '80s rock, just sitting around the firepit in our yard and shooting the breeze. We do have some really deep conversations, some philosophical and some not, but they are intriguing conversations – more than just the basic exchange of pleasantries and a few vague comments.”
It may not be the paradise that Norman envisioned in high school, but he says it’s a paradise nonetheless.
“I never would have guessed that I would be happy Stillwater, but here I am, halfway through college and having the time of life,” Norman said. “Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing. I belong in Stillwater, Oklahoma.”
Dan and his mom, Michelle at Dan's high school graduation.
Courtesy: Michelle Norman/Facebook
Dan, an Eagle Scout, loves to build fires in his backyard in Stillwater.
Dan (right) talks to his roommate Jacob Pekrul in the backyard as they sit around a fire.
Dan takes a study break and checks out a video on YouTube in his room.
He loves playing guitar and listening to his vinyl records on his record player.
Dan Norman's Creek Nation Citizenship ID Card