News and Events

Serving up Success

Donald RosenbergThis article was Originally published in the April - May 2005 issue of CLASnotes.

Following UF's commencement ceremonies on April 30, many graduates and their families will no doubt flock to Amelia's Italian restaurant in Downtown Gainesville to celebrate. But this year, 70-year-old waiter Donald Rosenberg will not be there to serve them. Instead, he will be celebrating his own success after receiving a PhD in Romance languages and literatures. After 52 years in the restaurant business, he is starting a new life.

Born and raised in Boston, Rosenberg dropped out of high school on his 16th birthday. "I was exercising my so-called right to be a rebellious teenager," he says. He immediately left home and began supporting himself as a busboy and then, after two years, promoted to waiter and he has not changed careers since. It was not until age 46 that he decided to earn his GED. A few years later, he began taking courses at Palm Beach Community College in West Palm Beach, enrolling in classes that interested him, such as French literature and classical music.

"When I was young, I loved to read and research and study, but only on my own terms at my own pace," Rosenberg says. "Back then, I had a strong rebellious antipathy against authority or regimentation. Once I got into college I realized how wrong I was." After two years, he had accumulated so many credits that an associate's degree was easily within grasp. He earned an AA in 1987, and then moved on to Florida Atlantic University, where he received a BA in languages and linguistics in 1989 and a master's in the same discipline in 1991. "Then I thought, I'm not going to stop now," he says. "I'm going to go for everything!" He was accepted into UF's PhD program in Romance languages and literatures in 1992 and decided to concentrate in Spanish literature.

Rosenberg's dissertation is on the use of paradox in the writings of Miguel De Unamuno, a writer and philosopher from the Basque Region of Spain who lived from 1864 to 1936 and served as president of the University of Salamanca. "He thought that he could deal with the challenges of life by taking a very self-contradictory perspective, and in many senses it seems to have worked for him, as I feel it is working for myself," Rosenberg says. He has worked under the guidance of dissertation chair Montserrat Alás-Brun, an associate professor of Spanish. "Donald has a job with a demanding schedule," she says. "He has worked tenaciously and tirelessly to complete his dissertation on time, in order to graduate this April."

For more than eight of the 13 years Rosenberg has lived in Gainesville, he has supported himself by working as a part-time waiter at Amelia's. He has also worked at the former Capriccio Restaurant in the University Centre Hotel and what is currently the Paramount Hotel on 13th Street. Following graduation, however, he plans to begin his job search and start a new life for himself. He is hoping to teach, but would also consider using his education and years of experience in a non-academic setting. No matter his career path, he is not going to let society's preconceptions about his age hold him back.

"I have been trying to change the attitude that a person's ability is commensurate to a number on a calendar," he says. "The majority of people as they reach their last years internalize these societal attitudes, so they tell themselves that they cannot do this or that because they are of a certain age. I think this is very tragic because a lifetime of experience is something that should not go to waste."

—Buffy Lockette

Jane Dominguez

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