She’s rented a pavilion for a picnic in Highland Park, dyed her hair for the first time, posted the news on Facebook and told just about everyone she knows.
Aida Jane Doolittle, a Rutgers baker who has spent 10 years pursuing her B.A. is graduating. Not only that. The 53-year-old finishes with a 3.7 GPA, majors in two schools and, best of all, the joy of being able to walk with her daughter, who is earning her master’s degree from the School of Social Work.
“I feel like I’ve won the lottery,” said Doolittle, who graduates from Rutgers University-New Brunswick May 17 with a double major in labor studies (School of Management and Labor Relations) and sociology (School of Arts and Sciences).
The New Brunswick native first attended the university in 1980 with dreams of becoming a zoologist. “I’d been in the national honor society in high school,” she said. “But once I got a taste of freedom, I went a little wild. I couldn’t focus on academics.”
Doolittle withdrew from Rutgers after her freshman year and took a job at what was then the Brower Commons Bakeshop, always thinking she’d return to school. But life intervened. A son, Sha Paul, was born in 1990, a daughter, Cheyenne, in 1991. Not long afterwards, her mother was diagnosed with cancer and she and her partner split, leaving Doolittle struggling to balance the demands of family and the job.
Then suddenly her kids were teenagers. “They didn’t need me as much, and I thought, ‘now it’s my time,’” Doolittle recalled. In 2004, she enrolled in Rutgers’ Elena Buchanan Transition Program, a pre-college course that helps adult students prepare for the rigors of study, and signed up for three credits.Doolittle proceeded slowly, one evening class a semester. In 2010, after her mother died, she decided to switch her hours in the bakeshop to the overnight shift so she could take day classes. A whole world opened up: psychology, meteorology, cognitive science, sociology. “I didn’t sleep much,” she said, “but it didn’t matter. I loved what I was learning.”
While she pursued a major in sociology, her practical side drew her to labor studies, where she studied organizational structure, learned about NGOs and gained a global perspective. She thought the field might give her a better shot at a second career.
"I was inspired by all the enlightened organizations trying to fight injustice and make the world a better place,” she said. “I’m not too old to work. I’d love to go to a developing country in the third world and dig wells. I want to make a difference – not just in people’s waistlines. “
Still, after the May 17 festivities are over, Doolittle will wake up the next day for her 3 a.m. shift and do what bakers do: plan recipes, mix ingredients, bake, frost and ready confections for delivery to the dining halls and cafes across the Rutgers campuses.
But she doesn’t plan to wait long to begin chapter two. She hopes to retire a little more than a year from now when she turns 55 and put her degree to use. The idea of putting her resume together is daunting, but it’s also exciting.
“My kids and I love road trips and on these journeys we get lost a lot,” she said. “But losing my way never bothers me. We call it our adventure. And that’s how it feels now, like I’m starting a big adventure.”
Click here to read about other outstanding members of the Class of 2015
For media inquires, contact Carla Cantor at ucm.rutgers.edu or 848-932-0555.