May 8, 2005 — Donnie E. Dorsett is a focused young man. When he tells you something, you know that he knows where he is going with it.
Dorsett sits at his desk in the Bureau of Economic Research and discusses his 27 years so far.
He is engaging, he smiles a lot and talks with his hands, almost without noticing. He operates between stacks of papers piled on his desk, in boxes on the floor, and in his limited shelf space.
He works with reams and reams of statistics, a measurable leap away from his college career, which was all about working with people.
The bureau releases tourism data, visitor arrivals, data on civilian employment, and just about anything else about the territory that can be explained in numbers. Dorsett says, "We determine the local consumer price index, and the gross territorial product.
"I enjoy my job. It's an excellent place to work," he says. "One of the benefits is that I get to communicate with the government agencies and the private sector and see how their processes work. It's a learning experience. I'm learning a lot."
Dorsett has always been "learning." He didn't miss a trick on his way through the University of the Virgin Islands, where he majored in social science with minors in history and political science, and was a prominent figure in student government.
Dorsett has worked at the bureau since he graduated from UVI in 2000. He was senior class president, senior senator, junior senator and he received the UVI Distinguished Service Award for his outstanding service as class president. The one post he ran for and lost was student body president, a loss which he describes as leaving him "distraught and heartbroken," after he and his running mate, Lesley Prince, ran a strong campaign. Dorsett didn't like losing, but he didn't miss a beat, assuming his post then as junior senator.
Looking super serious and making an encompassing gesture with his hands, Dorsett says, "I have always liked leadership roles, ever since high school. I like to help people." Indeed, much of what Dorsett says about his UVI career reflects his urge to help, to offer solutions.
"I wanted to help school spirit, and I wanted to help the students," he says, relating a story of one helpful play gone awry. "We started a scholarship to help students get books paid for out of the Student Government Association treasury. "We had four scholarships available for $100 each, which isn't much, but it would really help with getting books. Only one student applied, so that student got $400."
Aside from his political positions at UVI, Dorsett was always engaged in extra-curricular student activities. "People would come to me, and I had to help them," he says. "It became a problem. One of my instructors told me that would hold me back, but I have to help people when they ask."
Dorsett has a slow smile, a wide smile, he speaks slowly and deliberately, and he considers his words. He takes time out to reflect how he got to where he is now, saying "To be honest, I had help. When I was younger, I followed. I was always told, 'Everyone goes to college, or they go in the Army.' I wasn't sure. I couldn't believe I was grown up, so to speak. I was accustomed to being young. It's like when you're in high school — I graduated from Ivanna Eudora Kean — and then, what do you do?
"I had a friend who was applying at UVI," he says, "so I applied, too. My older sister, Deborah, has a master's degree, and she was always pushing me. I had to make a choice about what I was going to do."
And, as it turns out, UVI was a felicitous choice. Dorsett made a strong impression on the school, and the school made a strong impression on him. "UVI shaped me," he says. "Most of my professors had an impact on me, especially Malik Sekou. He was my advisor." Sekou is a political science professor, and well-known political commentator. Dorsett says, "He is wise beyond his years."
And you could say that Dorsett is wise beyond his years. He has his future charted out with an amazing eye, for one of his tender years.
He has, in fact, produced a booklet of his college years, "Experiences & Accomplishments of Donnie E. Dorsett – 1996-2000." The 23-page, well-annotated document includes articles he wrote for UVIsion, the UVI newspaper, his campaign platforms, and a record of his political growth.
And he is still in school. He says, "I'm getting my masters degree at the University of Nebraska." Nebraska? "It's an online university course," Dorsett explains. "I looked at several. Many were too expensive, and Nebraska has a public administration program that I like." He is working toward a master's degree in public administration, with a concentration in public management.
Dorsett says in most respects it is like attending a regular university. "I have a professor, he gives me assignments, he gives out a syllabus, and he has office hours, just like a regular school," Dorsett explains. "We have a chat room, and I have group projects with the other students. The disadvantage is you don't know the other students, there's no one-on-one." He plans to graduate with his master's degree in 2007.
Though focused on the present, Dorsett has no problems discussing his thoughts on his future. He says, "I'll stay at the bureau until I graduate, and then I'll see what the future holds. I like government, but that's not my ultimate career. I'm not making a move yet, but later in life."
He adds, almost without a beat, "I'd like to be governor." Then, the smile comes out, "I don't know if I should have said that now." May we quote him? He thinks it over. "Oh, Ok, you can quote me."
Dorsett is savvy politically. He picked up a lot at UVI, and he studies the political process. An article he wrote for UVIsion, in his sophomore year was titled "Local Politicians have Drunk the Wine of Deceit and Self-centeredness."
In that, Dorsett lamented the sincerity of elected officials and their dedication to their constituents, and he criticized the teaching profession, as well. "The teachers no longer show the drive that made the J. Antonio Jarvises and the Roy Schneiders," the article says. "The government of the V. I. has betrayed the people with false promises."
Since writing the article in his sophomore year his views have further solidified.
He has occasion to attend Senate meetings when his office is called to give testimony. He says today, "The Senate is a stage. You know what the senators say on the floor is all acting. They say terrible things to each other on the floor, and then laugh and are big buddies when it's away from the public's view. Most decisions are made off the floor. Most people don't know that," he shakes his head.
Dorsett isn't certain he would pursue a Senate seat, either, though it's the logical way up the political ladder. "I have a minor in history," he says. "I was thinking about getting a degree in history, but that would probably limit me to teaching."
Dorsett says he cannot remember when he last read a novel. Nor does he have an avid interest in sports. "That's not me," he says. When other guys were going out for sports, Dorsett was going out for Julius Caesar. "I always read historical books," he says. "I love ancient Rome, Egypt, Syria, Babylon, the Peloponnesian wars. It gives me perspective."
And he loves traveling. "I travel whenever I can. I like to learn other people's culture, the way they do things. I've been all over the New England states," he says. "And Florida, too, Miami. I go to the city councils, or the state assemblies to see how they do things." Then with a knowing expr
ession, he adds, "And, believe it or not, it's the same thing as here, only with the different cultures."
Dorsett is the middle son in a family of five, with three older siblings, Dale, Deborah and Denise, and a younger brother, Daniel. His parents, Icilda and George, live on St. Thomas. George is a taxi driver. "They insisted we get an education," Dorsett says of himself and his siblings. With one exception, they all have college degrees. "Daniel is at Monroe College in New York now," Dorsett says, "getting a degree in computer science. We are very close."
As the interview wanes toward a close, he reveals that he does, indeed, have "a lady." He calls her to get her permission to use her name. "It's Judith Todman. We've been together about two and a half years," he says with a smile that ends that branch of the conversation.
On the way out of the office, Dorsett mentions one other ambition. "I think young people should grow up with the idea of entrepreneurship instead of simply assuming they will work for the government. There should be more emphasis on going out on your own."
Rethinking this last remark, his smile flashes out, "I realize that I'm working for the government now," he says, "but this won't be forever."