Dorothy Jean Tillman II: From Prodigy to PhD at 17

Dorothy Jean Tillman II’s participation in Arizona State University’s May 6 commencement marks a new chapter in a remarkable academic journey that began when she took her first college course at just 10 years old. This Chicago teen, known affectionately as “Dorothy Jeanius,” has now become the youngest person to earn a doctoral degree in integrated behavioral health at ASU, a testament to her extraordinary intellect and determination.

Tillman’s higher education trajectory is nothing short of astounding. While most of her peers were adjusting to middle school, she was already pursuing college-level studies. Encouraged by her mother, she enrolled in psychology courses at the College of Lake County in northern Illinois, where she completed her associate’s degree by 2016. This early start set the stage for her rapid accumulation of academic credentials.

Her journey didn’t stop with an associate’s degree. Tillman swiftly moved on to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, each step a testament to her relentless pursuit of knowledge and academic excellence. Her dedication culminated in December when she successfully defended her dissertation, earning her the distinction of being the youngest doctoral graduate in her field at ASU.

Associate Professor Leslie Manson, who observed Tillman’s progress, shared with ABC’s “Good Morning America” the significance of this achievement. “It’s a wonderful celebration, and we hope … that Dorothy Jean inspires more students,” Manson said. “But this is still something so rare and unique.” Indeed, Tillman’s success is a beacon of inspiration, demonstrating that age is no barrier to exceptional academic accomplishment.

Tillman’s story is not just about personal triumph but also about the power of support and encouragement in nurturing young talent. Her mother’s early recognition of her potential and her subsequent enrollment in college courses were crucial steps that enabled Tillman to excel. This strong support system, combined with Tillman’s inherent motivation and brilliance, facilitated her unprecedented academic journey.

As Dorothy Jean Tillman II continues to forge her path, her achievements will undoubtedly inspire many young students to pursue their academic dreams with similar fervor. Her story is a powerful reminder that with the right support and determination, extraordinary accomplishments are within reach for those willing to challenge the norms and push the boundaries of what is possible in education.