After starting college at 10, a teen receives her doctorate at age 17

Dorothy Jean Tillman II becomes the youngest graduate to receive a doctoral degree in integrated behavioral health.

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At 17, Dorothy Jean Tillman II received her doctorate from Arizona State University. (Photo: Adobe Stock)

As other 17-year-olds opened their college acceptance letters this spring, one student from Chicago received her doctorate. On May 6, Dorothy Jean Tillman II, the granddaughter of former Chicago alderwoman and civil rights activist Dorothy Jean Tillman, became the youngest person in Arizona State University history to receive a doctoral degree in integrated behavioral health.

Tillman’s higher education journey began at the age of 10 when, after being homeschooled, her mother enrolled her at the College of Lake County in northern Illinois, per Huffington Post.

Speaking to ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Tillman said, “I’m really just grateful that the world is my oyster, and that I’ve done so much so young.”

The teen also noted how she’s drawn on inspiration from her family and within herself.

“People in my life like my grandmother, who was part of the civil rights movement, she of course harped on the importance of education and consistently learning something always,” she said. “But the way I always held education so high on my own, aside from being raised that way, was finding different things to be educated about.”

Tillman added, “I feel like that urge to learn something new just never didn’t exist for me.”

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During a recent appearance on the “Jennifer Hudson Show,” the teen rattled off the various stops along her road to higher education. Tillman said she received her associate’s degree in psychology at the age of 10, a bachelor’s in humanities at 12 and a master’s in environmental and sustainable science at 15. She was accepted into Arizona State’s behavioral health management doctoral program in 2020.

Despite being among the rare teens with multiple college degrees, Tillman’s post-graduation plans aren’t too far off from her average peers: She doesn’t know yet.

She told “Good Morning America,” I’m just like any other teenager, still figuring out what my specific dreams and goals are.”

While talking to fellow Chicago native Hudson, Tillman noted that others her age have occasionally been intimidated by her accomplishments — or they’ve questioned what they’re doing with their lives. However, she explained it only takes a little time to realize she’s a regular teenager, like them.

“I’m a person who likes to make people focus on all the beautiful things about themselves,” she said.

When asked what she hopes teens take rom her story, Tillman said she hopes they’re inspired to lean into their wildest dreams.

“Keeping your faith and putting mind over matter is what is going to carry you through anything that you’re passionate about,” she said. 

She added, “At the end of the day if you tell yourself you can do it, like if you’re just delusional, and you just lose your way through it, you lie to yourself through it. Even if you don’t believe it, you will eventually believe it if that’s all you’re hearing, telling yourself every day.”