Black teen from Chicago earns a Master’s degree at 14

Dorothy Jean Tillman encourages students her actual age to reach for their goals: 'It doesn’t take a genius ... It just takes dedication'

14-year-old Chicago native, Dorothy Jean Tillman has graduated from Unity College with a Master's degree in Sustainable Science and Environmental Planning. 

Dorothy Jean Tillman, 14
Dorothy Jean Tillman, 14 (provided to Rolling Out)

Now for a bit of much-needed good news.

14-year-old Chicago native, Dorothy Jean Tillman has graduated from Unity College with a Master’s degree in Sustainable Science and Environmental Planning. 

The teen was identified as a child prodigy by her parents early in life. How could they miss that she was special? She started talking at eight months old and was doing advanced math at the age of four. 

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The youngster began taking online high school classes when she was nine years old.

After completing those courses, her mother asked her if she wanted to earn an Associate’s degree. By 2018, she had already graduated from Excelsior College with a Bachelor’s degree in Humanities. During her graduation ceremony, it was discovered that 60 years separated her in age from the eldest graduate in the class. That individual was 72. 

Tillman, who goes by the nickname DJ, told Albany’s News10 that she wanted to go into Environmental Engineering because, “it’s all about helping people, the environment, and that’s just what I love to do, that’s what makes me happy.” 

In the same interview, Tillman’s mother, Jemelitia Tillman, swells with pride.

She told the TV station, “There are some great things coming out of the south side of Chicago and this, my baby, is one of the greatest of them all.”

Her nickname for her daughter is Dorothy Genius. 

In an interview with Rolling Out, DJ said that her path “isn’t for everyone.” She says that the quarantine is likely showing a lot of other students that learning online may have been easier for them because it takes away the stress that comes with being in the classroom. 

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“One thing that I would want every kid to know,” Tillman says, “Is that what I did is an option and that they can do it too. It doesn’t take a genius or someone who has been learning forever. I’m not perfect. I’m not the smartest person in the world. It just takes dedication.” 

DJ Tillman told Rolling Out that she is working on STEM labs for children because she enjoys working with kids. As for her future goals, she says that she plans to be an entrepreneur and use her engineering degree. With bright eyes and an even brighter smile, Tillman says, “I feel like I’m here to make people happy and to help people find their purpose.”

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