Pat Tillman Foundation can’t fulfill its mission to empower military veterans and their spouses without the generosity of our supporters across the country. Nationwide, over 400 Tillman Scholars are striving to impact our country and communities through their studies in medicine, law, business, policy, science, education and the arts. Every “Tillman Tuesday,” we are committed to highlighting the individual impact of a Tillman Scholar, focusing on their success in school, career and community—all thanks to your support. This week we learn more about 2015 Tillman Scholar and Harvard Law student Adrian Perkins who has always been inspired by his mother and fueled by competition with his brothers. Adrian was recently named the Harvard Law School Director of Student Organizations and upon graduation plans to return to his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana to further his career of service in the public sector.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
“My brother joined the military when I was in the second grade and he and I are very competitive – which planted the seed for my future interest in the military. When I was a junior in high school 9/11 happened and the seed started to grow a bit more that military was a possibility for me. Later that year West Point began to recruit me and my brother told me that if I were to join the military I should be an Officer. I learned college was very expensive. As I visited West Point a couple of times and started to learn what an honorable profession the military was I realized West Point was free, allowed me the opportunity to run track, and get a really good education on top of defending my country at war.”
BEING ULTRA COMPETITIVE, WHAT WERE THE EVENTS YOU RAN IN TRACK AND HOW SUCCESSFUL WERE YOU?
“I wanted to be a sprinter like my brother but in middle school I was so bad at track that I finished next to last in the 100 meter run and didn’t even want to see my teammates afterwards. The following year the coach convinced me to run the 800 meter run and I was very skeptical because I wanted to run with the sprinters. I ended up winning my first two track meets and another track coach in the area saw me, learned I wasn’t being trained properly and then volunteered to train me that summer. After training properly for only a few months, I finished sixth in the Junior Olympics – prior to that, I was just running the wrong race for me.
My success continued in high school – I competed at the state competition all four years, was an all-state selection three years, running a 1:53 in the 800-meter run during my junior year – making me very marketable for college. Everybody in my family was a sprinter so they thought it was odd how much I was running when I would get up in the morning and run three to five miles – it’s a totally different training regimen.
SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE GROWING UP IN SHREVEPORT, LA?
Both of my parents are from a really small town outside of Shreveport. We grew up in an area called Cedar Grove where there was a lot of violence at the time. My father left when I was four and my mom moved us out of the area years later to a better environment, though things were not better financially. We struggled financially, but my mom made up for it through love and support. My mom taught me everything I needed to know about perseverance like not making excuses for anything. She raised three kids alone and as an Administrative Assistant earned her Associate’s Degree when I was in elementary school, had earned her Bachelor’s by the time I was in middle school, all while working two jobs when she wasn’t in school. There would be weeks that would go by where I wouldn’t see my mom until the weekend because she was at school or work. She has such an incredible work ethic and loves me dearly and there was never a point in time that I would doubt my mom or my brothers would do anything for me.”
HOW DIFFERENT WAS THE CULTURE CHANGE FOR YOU, GOING FROM SHREVEPORT TO WEST POINT AND HAVING THE OPPORTUNITY TO COMPETE ON THE TRACK TEAM?
“I was approached by several Ivy League schools to join their track program but I didn’t even fill out the questionnaire or return phone calls because I didn’t think I was smart enough to go to schools like that. Along with that, I was considering some SEC schools that were recruiting me but I didn’t want to place that financial burden on my mom. West Point seemed to be a fit but I didn’t realize at the time it was a big academic school – I thought it was more military training and I would do a lot of physical stuff. The summer before I signed with West Point, I learned that it ranked fourth academically among public schools and I thought that was weird with my perception of military training. When I showed up to West Point I was completely blown away with their academic workload and everything I learned. I was playing catch up until my junior year coming from a southern public school education into one of the most elite institutions in the country and it was hard.
Academics were one part of the culture change along with the weather, where I learned about snow real quick. It was very different for me coming from a very conservative place so my brain expanded quite a bit socially, culturally and academically. There was a moment where I didn’t know how I was going to do it but it all worked out – I was given opportunities that I never would have had, had I not gone to school at West Point.”
HOW LONG DID YOU SERVE IN THE MILITARY, DID YOU DEPLOY AND IF SO, WHAT WAS YOUR ROLE?
“My total time in the service was eight years. I deployed to Iraq for 12 months as a Platoon Leader in Baghdad, serving five months as a Targeting Officer for a Cavalry unit. During my first deployment to Afghanistan I served as an Operations Officer and a Company Commander for my last deployment to Afghanistan.”
FINISHING YOUR TIME IN THE SERVICE AS A CAPTAIN, WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO GET OUT OF THE MILITARY?
“I did my five year required commitment from West Point and was advised to at least do company command before making a decision to get out. With that being said, I didn’t get an opportunity for company command until about my sixth year. I wanted the opportunity to command as well as support in going to school so that’s why I stayed in as long as I did. I was actually accepted to teach Economics at West Point one week before I was accepted to Harvard Law School. I was super excited for both opportunities, I talked to my mom about it and prayed about it and ultimately it boiled down to stability in my life – I wanted to come back to Shreveport sooner rather than later than the military would have allowed me. Law school allows me to have some stability and work in one place and come back sooner.”
THROUGHOUT YOUR TIME IN THE MILITARY, WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT YOURSELF THAT YOU MAY NOT HAVE KNOWN BEFORE?
“One thing I learned was that I can survive and thrive in different environments when facing challenges. As a result, going into anything new I’m never doubting myself at this point – it gave me a confidence that I wouldn’t have gotten in any other job. The military also reinforced a ton of things that my mom showed me as far as pushing through things that are difficult and supporting your team and doing all you can for them. It reinforced a lot of different values I already have but on a totally different scale.”
YOU MENTIONED THAT YOU NEVER THOUGHT YOU COULD GET INTO AN IVY LEAGUE SCHOOL, YET YOU PROVED YOURSELF WRONG BY NOW PURSUING A LAW DEGREE AT HARVARD. WHAT INSPIRED TO TAKE THE PATH OF A JURIS DOCTOR?
“I was interested in Law school during a high school debate tournament when a woman wrote in her comments, ‘this is a perfect rebuttal. I could see this young man in a court room’. I don’t have any family that are lawyers so it was the ultimate compliment she could have paid me – it was one of the first times someone had recognized my talents academically. It was another seed that was planted that I thought about during my time in the military. Coming back to my hometown, I saw some things that were wrong while also seeing some of the most influential people being lawyers along with reading books on law and learning about some of the injustices in the judicial system.
When it came down to it and I was applying to grad schools, I was advised to consider Business School because it was a natural path from the military. I thought about Business School but was way more attracted to the Law and the potential in the skillset. With that, I decided to go to Harvard Law School. As an undergrad I realized I could keep up with really smart people and I figured if I was going to go to Law School I should try going to the best law school.”
HOW DID YOU LEARN ABOUT THE TILLMAN SCHOLARSHIP?
“I learned about it through a fellow Tillman Scholar and learned there were a lot of other scholars from West Point. I applied for it and was fortunate to be accepted. I’ve always been a huge Pat Tillman fan. I think he embodies the best that America has to offer – somebody who’s not egotistical at all, who has the crown and gave it all up as a professional athlete to do something larger than himself and I’m honored to help carry that legacy forward.”
WHAT HAS THE TILLMAN SCHOLARSHIP ENABLED YOU THE OPPORTUNITY THAT YOU MAY NOT HAVE OTHERWISE HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO DO?
“Hands down the most valuable part of the Tillman Scholarship is the people. People that are extremely selfless. Selflessness is not always the rule in the military. Sometimes it’s very aggressive and people want to be successful and sacrifice everything for their own individual growth. Being part of the Tillman community has allowed me to be surrounded by the most phenomenal people who do not think about self – that has been the most amazing part for me. The Tillman Scholar community is so selfless and filled with people who want to give back to a community and do something bigger than themselves. Being part of this type of community has helped influence my decision to go back home to Shreveport after graduation and help make the society better.”
IN ADDITION TO GOING HOME TO SHREVEPORT, WHAT DO YOU ASPIRE TO DO UPON GRADUATION AFTER EARNING YOUR LAW DEGREE?
“I have not yet decided if I’m going to pursue Public Interest Law or Private Law so this summer I’m working Public Interest doing a clerkship and then working for the Governor of Louisiana. Next summer I plan to work for a law firm. After that I’ll reevaluate both public and private and make a decision from there.”
HAVING RECENTLY BEEN SELECTED AS A REGIONAL FOUNDATION CAPTAIN (RFC) FOR THE FOUNDATION, WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH IN THAT ROLE?
“I hope to bring the Boston region together and closer – not that it hasn’t been, just in a more organized fashion. I think the greatest asset the Tillman Scholar community has to offer are the people and I feel it’s really important to get to know each other and what ventures we’re all going on and remain encouraged by one another to continue to do our selfless things we’re doing.”
WHAT DEFINES YOU AND HAS MOLDED YOU INTO THE PERSON YOU’VE BECOME TODAY AND HOPE TO CONTINUE TO BE?
“I didn’t go to West Point or the military, become a company commander or get accepted into Harvard Law School has for myself but rather my family, my community and my country. I don’t want people to look at me as an African-American and the successes I’ve had and think that everybody is able to do what I did because that’s not the true story in our society. There are a lot of injustices and inequities throughout our society that prevent successes such as mine, from being feasible for a lot of people. We have to protect the weaker people in our society – we can’t just go about our lives thinking everybody has the same opportunities to be successful.”