Interviews

Published on November 12th, 2019 | by Percy Crawford

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Dr. Cortlan Wickliff, Will Reach Over 40,000 Students Across Texas On His, “Be Driven To Succeed,” Tour!

By the time, Dr. Cortlan Wickliff was 23-year’s old, he had graduated from Rice University and Harvard Law School.

Dr. Cortlan Wickliff left the house at age 15 to attend college. At age 19, he was graduating from Rice University. The Texas native didn’t stop there. At age 22, he graduated from Harvard Law School becoming the youngest African American to graduate from the prestigious law school. Now, in an effort to share his story and the benefits of taking education seriously, Dr. Wickliff will be speaking with over 40,000 students throughout the state of Texas on his, “Be Driven To Succeed” Tour. He also has a book to his credit titled, “Young and Driven.” Dr. Wickliff’s mission on his tour is to positively impact the lives of this generation who are struggling with some of the issues he struggled with during his youth.

During my conversation with, Dr. Wickliff, he talks about the importance of using social media the right way, making his message clear during his tour and surrounding yourself with positive influences.

You are embarking on a tour, “Be Driven To Succeed,” Where we are at with social media and things like that kind of controlling the narrative with the youth, how important is it that you talk to these kids?

Dr. Cortlan Wickliff: It’s very important. A lot of times, regardless of what side of the isle you are on, we don’t realize that we are constantly telling our kids that the world is worse and moving in a bad direction and everything is going to a negative place. We don’t realize that our kids are listening. A lot of the kids that I’m reaching out to and I’m talking with, they are pessimistic about their futures because they are listening to us adults talk negatively about it. I just wanted to go out and encourage people in my state to believe that they can make a positive future for themselves and the world around them.

When you were setting this tour up, I’m sure staying right there at home in Texas was an imperative part of the planning.

Dr. Cortlan Wickliff: Yes! This is how I’m spending my vacation from work. One thing I’ve always wanted to do was to see my entire state. I grew up most of my life on the east segment of Texas and I never been west. This was an opportunity to not just go west for recreation, but to actually go out and meet the people that are fellow Texans who I never had the chance to meet before and really engage with young people who are also having some tough times, with different droughts and some of the gun violence and lost opportunities. I heard people out in West Texas are having some struggles and I wanted to be able to, just give some words of encouragement to the young people out there.

You graduated from Rice University at age 19 and Harvard Law School at 22. You obviously made up your mind at a very young age what direction you wanted to go in. is that one of your talking points while on this tour is that you can decide at a young age what you want to be or at least the direction you want to go in?

Dr. Cortlan Wickliff: Yes. So, something that I talk about in my book, “Young And Driven: Overdrive,” is a lot of times we expect kids to be young and dumb and we think that’s because they just want to be irrational. But a lot of times, we haven’t taken the time to show them a better pathway. I’ve never met a kid, from the drug dealer to the hustler… I have never met a young person who wanted to be unsuccessful. If they’re going down a bad path, they’re doing that because that’s the only version of success that they are seeing or that they believe they can achieve. So, it’s important for me, being somebody who had success in these other positive avenues to go and not only share my successes but share where I started; coming out of single parent household, my dad died when I was 10. Dealing with financial issues, dealing with bullying and all of that that made up my childhood, showing that, it doesn’t matter where you start. The tragedy doesn’t dictate your trajectory. You have the option of choosing a different path.

You had to be one determined and focused man to achieve that. And to accomplish that much so young and still be so hungry is amazing.

Dr. Cortlan Wickliff: It’s funny that you mentioned being hungry because being hungry is what made me focus so much on achieving. I didn’t like the fact that… the reason why my dad is not alive today is because he couldn’t afford to treat a diagnosed medical condition. He was diagnosed with a heart problem, and he didn’t have the insurance or the money to treat it and he died. I never wanted anybody in my family or anybody in my circle to ever have that experience of having to choose between your health or paying your bills or taking care of your family. So, I wanted to have the resources to be able to help those around me. I made sure that at every stage… and I shouldn’t say I. A lot of credit goes to the adults in my life that showed me that if you focus on achieving these metrics and these degree, and having these successes, you’re going to be put in a position where you don’t have to go through that in your adult life. I shouldn’t say it was just me focusing, but it was also those around me who showed me and told me, prioritizing your education could help protect your family down the line and help you be able to provide for yourself and the people around you.

There seems to be a thin line between pushing a kid to accomplish set goals and dreams and applying pressure to eliminate having fun and having a social life and buying into constantly having their foot on the gas.

Dr. Cortlan Wickliff: For me, I didn’t feel pressure because the people around me were just pointing to what I said I wanted and telling me how to get it. So, it wasn’t that my mom wanted me to go off to school early. She actually cried profusely for months when I left home. I was 15 at the time and to know that her 15-year old child is 200 miles away and living on his own was scary for her. But she would constantly tell me, “If you’re serious about wanting to get into a top engineering school, wanting that PhD before you turn 25 and wanting to go to Harvard Law School, then these are the things you need to do.” So, if I was lacking in school, she would point out that if I was serious about my goals, I had to realize that that was taking me off the path. So, I am very thankful for her in not putting pressure on me.

But the other thing is, I realize even in my personal drive, if you are all work all the time, you’re going to burn out. It’s not just about planning your work, it’s also about planning your fun. So, anytime I hit a major milestone… every test I took, I would go watch a movie or have Rocky Road Bluebell; that’s my favorite. Or after every semester, I would take a trip somewhere. So, when I turned 21 and finished out my second year of law school, I took a trip to Puerto Rico. You gotta plan for your awards as well as your work.

Attention span or lack thereof I should say is a part of today’s culture. Whether it’s a movie or a book or whatever, it has to grab kids right away or lose them. You will be speaking to over 40,000 kids. How do you plan on delivering your message, educating them while keeping their attention?

Dr. Cortlan Wickliff: I always think of a, Maya Angelou quote when she says, “People will forget what you say, but they won’t forget how you made them feel.” My goal whenever I’m talking to the young people is, I can’t give them all the information they need to know with me telling them. That’s the reason why my goal is to leave a copy of my book either electronically or physically with all the students who participate. So, when I’m talking to them, it’s not just me trying to data dump information on them because I’m going to lose them. What I’m doing is sharing aspects of my story, some of the difficulties that I went through and how I got through it, knowing that, if I’m talking to a room of teenagers about being bullied, I’m talking to some kids who have been bullied. If I’m talking to a room full of teenagers about the loss of a loved one, I’m talking to some kids who have had to bury some really close family members. And the list goes on. I’m just trying to connect with the circumstances they’re in and letting them know that they are not alone. And that there is a light at the end of the tunnel if they just keep persevering. If they don’t get anything else from my messages, I just make sure that I keep hitting that point, so even if I lose their attention, I still left them with what I wanted them to know.

For the audience that feels like education is corny and it’s more about the fast life than studying and making good grades. How do you combat that to let kids know that your journey was rigorous but worth it?

Dr. Cortlan Wickliff: Just like rappers and entertainers’ stunt for kids, I think it’s important that occasionally as young black professionals, we stunt for the kids a little bit. While I’m not going to be somebody that wears flashy things, I’m going to let them know, when I finished out my, PhD, I spent a month in Bermuda because I could. I let them know that, while it might be difficult upfront, you’re making a small sacrifice, so that you could have a lifetime of fun. So, I make sure to tell them about some of the fun experiences I’ve had and some of the different things I’ve been able to do because we shouldn’t expect that we can keep telling kids to focus on education without showing them that end result is fun. My life is not some miserable nose to the grindstone. I have a lot of fun. I plan to have a lot of fun on this tour. Interacting with kids and seeing my entire state, this is something I’m able to do because I went and got that education up front. I show them that it’s not corny by in my own personal way, doing a little bit of stunting for the youth.

When you earn a lot of degrees, you wear a lot of hats. How do you balance everything?

Dr. Cortlan Wickliff: The most important thing is, I admit when I need help. Thankfully I have a lot of people helping me with this. The people over at, Formula, my family and the community around me. This isn’t something I can do by myself. Even though I’m putting up a lot of the finances for this, there are a lot of people who are working to make this happen. So, by admitting when I need help or that I’m outside of my comfort zone, I find like minded people who are willing to work with me. I think that is the most important thing. I can’t do all this by myself. I am not Superman and I don’t pretend to be.

Do you touch on social media at all during the tour and informing kids on how it can be a great thing when used correctly?

Dr. Cortlan Wickliff: Something that I talk about on the tour is, how people view you impacts your success. If people view you as a respectful person… there is something called the, “Halo Effect” where if you have one good attribute they assume you have other good attributes, so they are gonna assume that you’re smart, they are going to assume that you’re talented based on that one good attribute. So, I encourage the students to think about how what they are doing can be viewed by other people. With social media, I think it is a powerful tool, especially for the up and coming generation, because it is a meritocracy. No matter how much money you have, you cannot buy followers. You can buy bots, but you cannot buy followers and engagement and excitement for you. It’s really a great opportunity for these young people growing up and learning how to navigate it in a way that previous generations will never fully grasp. I definitely encourage young people to use it as a tool, but just keep in mind, what you post is forever. Whether or not you deleted it, you can’t control who screenshots it or downloads it. So, don’t be the person who, loses out on a major opportunity because of something you foolishly posted when you were 15 or 16-years old.

What would you consider a successful tour?

Dr. Cortlan Wickliff: The funny thing is, it actually already feels like a success. My metric of success is impacting students. We’ve already been to seven schools and I’ve heard back from students saying that this impacting them positively in their life, and that’s the ultimate measure of success. Whether I’m speaking in front of 10-people or 10,000, if I can on a given day positively impact the lives of a young person coming up struggling with some of these things that I grew up struggling with, then it’s a good day. My hope is that, for the next 45 or so stops that I’m going to be doing, that I have people in every audience… to have their lives positively changed and they leave feeling better about themselves. Even if they don’t remember anything else that I said, that feeling of confidence will take them far.

I appreciate the time. I think this is an awesome tour and I’m sure it will do great. Where can people find information on the tour?

Dr. Cortlan Wickliff: You can go to www.cortlanwickliff.com and that will have all of the information about the tours, how you can participate as well as some of the events that are open to the public. We’re going to be going to 20 plus cities across the state of Texas, so there is a good chance we’re going to be driving by yours. Also, follow on social media, Twitter is @cjwickliff and Instagram Cortlan J Wickliff. You can get updates that way as well.

Be sure to contribute to, Dr. Wickliff’s educational tour: https://www.gofundme.com/f/driventexastour



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