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Chicago Teen Makes History Receiving Doctorate at Just 17 Years Old from Arizona State University

A Chicago teen has earned her doctoral degree at just 17 years old, making her the youngest person in history to ever do so. 

Dorothy Jean Tillman II walked in her Arizona State commencement ceremony on May 6 after completing her Doctorate of Behavioral Health Management program, which she was first accepted into at the age of 15. 

Dorothy Jean Tillman’s Early Education Journey

Dorothy Jean Tillman, affectionately known by family and friends as “Dorothy Jeanius” first began her collegiate career at the age of 10, after several early years of being homeschooled. At a time when most of her peers were just entering 5th and 6th grade, Dorothy began taking college classes through the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois, about two hours outside of Chicago.

She earned her associate’s degree in 2016 and finished her bachelor’s degree at Excelsior University, an online degree program based in Albany, New York, in 2018 when she was 12. 

After completing a master of science degree in 2020, Dorothy began her Doctorate of Behavioral Health Management program at Arizona State University in 2021 – at the age of 15.

She successfully defended her dissertation in December of 2023 before choosing to join her 2024 classmates in person at ASU’s spring commencement ceremony where she delivered a speech to all in attendance. 

“I got a chance to meet many of my classmates in person as well as professors,” Dorothy wrote in an Instagram post. “To get the opportunity to speak on the stage in front of 20,000 people live and 3 million online was truly an honor.”

Tillman credited her family as one of her biggest inspirations to complete her graduate studies.

“Seeing my mother consistently work so hard to continuously uphold our family’s legacy and be that person that everyone was able to go to, if they needed anything … always seeing [her] like Wonder Woman definitely made me want to grow up [into] an accomplished person,” Dorothy told Good Morning America.

The 17-year-old is also the granddaughter of Dorothy Tillman, the former Chicago alderwoman who was involved in the civil rights movement.

“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,” Dorothy said.

What’s Ahead for Dorothy Jean Tillman?

With her degrees now done, Dorothy plans to continue reflecting on what her specific goals are as well as focus on other interests, including public speaking and growing the Dorothyjeanius STEAM Leadership Institute, a program she founded which includes summer camps designed to help young people in the arts and STEM subjects.

“I’m really just grateful that the world is my oyster, and that I’ve done so much so young,” she said. “And I have time to kind of think that through.”

In her free time, Dorothy enjoys dance and choreography. Still, completing her doctorate at just 17 years old brought on several sacrifices. 

“I didn’t have the everyday school things like homecoming dances or spirit weeks or just school pictures and things like that … that kind of create unity with my peers,” she said.

Dorothy’s mother Jimalita Tillman says she’s most impressed with her daughter’s ability show herself and her successes with grace, but to also understand when to “put her foot down” when choosing between social outings and her education.

Bri Lamm
Bri Lamm
Bri is an outgoing introvert with a heart that beats for adventure. She lives to serve the Lord, experience the world, and eat macaroni and cheese in between capturing life’s greatest moments on one of her favorite cameras.

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After facing relentless bullying and harassment over the past school year, 12-year-old Flora Martinez ended her life on May 7. Now, her parents are demanding change from schools and administrators after the bullying persisted, even once she was gone.

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