Lilly spoke to a small group of female students at the Phoenix Performance Learning Center on Monday, where she shared her success story and offered career advice.
Having grown up in Birmingham, Ala., Lilly said throughout her grade and high school years, she didn’t take school seriously. When she enrolled at Talladega College, she wasn’t concerned with academia at first, so much as having the “college experience.”
But when a fellow classmate expressed her excitement about having made the dean’s list one semester, it sparked a healthy dose of competition in Lilly. Secretly, she made the student her academic rival and immersed herself in studying. After earning her bachelor’s degree, she earned her master’s from Texas Southern University and began practicing at her own firm in Birmingham at the age of 25.
Though her career started splendidly as a lawyer, Lilly decided to leave the field when was offered a job on Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign as a regional political director in 2007.
She started out her campaign career handing out fliers, making campaign calls and sticking campaign signs in the deep snow of Portsmouth, N.H. Her next campaign city location was Los Angeles and there she fraternized with many pop culture and political celebrities.
Students gaped at photos of Lilly with actress and singer Tatyana Ali and “Girlfriends” star Tracee Ellis Ross. Lilly still works closely with Shirley Franklin, Atlanta’s first female mayor and there were also photos of her with Ted and Caroline Kennedy. Other states she lived in while campaigning were Mississippi, South Carolina and Indiana.
Perhaps the most exciting photos was the ones of Lilly with Obama himself as well as Lilly with future First Lady Michelle Obama, who she recalled as much more outgoing and talkative than the president.
Following Obama’s election in 2008, Lilly joined the 2012 campaign and served on the inauguration committee. She was appointed in 2012 as Georgia’s director of Obama for America and is in the running for more appointments for titles at the political corporation.
Having taken immeasurable strides from that class clown to a presidential campaign leader, Lilly encouraged the PLC students to surpass their own obstacles, follow their dreams and make something of themselves.
“Believe in yourself and your abilities,” she said. “Don’t allow people to put a label on you and tell you you’re … not smart enough. Find out what you want to do, let them know you’re serious, volunteer. Be creative, think outside of the box and know what you’re worth.”