HOW TAJ CLAYTON GOT BOOK-SMART
The Fish & Richardson partner reflects on humble pie,
hard work and comparisons to President Obama
INTERVIEW BY BETH TAYLOR
“Can I stay with my grandparents?” I had
such good friends in Pottstown, and I was
into sports and a bunch of organizations,
but my parents were not splitting up the
family. So they moved us to New Jersey,
but I actually landed on my feet. I went to a
public high school there and became class
president by my senior year. I was captain
of the basketball team, played football, ran
track. They had this annual event, it’s like
the biggest event in Millville, called The Mr.
Millville Contest. It’s sort of like a pageant
for [high school] guys, and I was Mr. Millville
my senior year.
I think that move probably helped me
in a lot of ways that I never anticipated.
It gave me confidence. It doesn’t matter
where I am, as long as I stay true to the
principles my parents and my older sister
instilled in me, I could be successful.
There was a guidance counselor there
when I first got there. My dream since
elementary school was to go to an Ivy
League school, and she told me, before
she even looked at my transcript, that it
would be almost impossible to get into an
Ivy League school. Then she left, and the
new guidance counselor came in and was
ultrasupportive and really encouraged me
that I could get into an Ivy League school if
I just stayed the course.
Q: After you graduated from high school,
your parents moved to Dallas?
A: [My dad’s company] transferred him
down to Dallas the summer between
high school and college. I stayed in New
Jersey that summer because my parents
wanted to teach me the value of a college
Q: Were you born in Dallas?
A: I’m from a small town outside of
Philadelphia called Pottstown, Pennsylvania.
It’s an industrial blue-collar town where my
parents grew up, and I was there from birth
until after my sophomore year in high school.
It’s a small town, but it experiences some
big-city problems: drug dealing and violence
and crime. At the same time, it does still
harbor some small-town values. There’s a
great sense of community. But growing up in
Pottstown, it can be a tough childhood for a
lot of people. I got exposed to a lot of things
that maybe some people are sheltered from.
I grew up both book-smart and street-smart.
My parents were both glass-factory
workers, and the plant where they were
working when we were living in Pottstown
got bought. My parents got laid off. There
were some lean years where we really
struggled until my dad got a new job.
That’s when we moved to Millville, New
Jersey, another small town. I spent two
years there, and that’s where I graduated
from high school.
We were by no means poor, but we were
by no means wealthy, either. I understood
the value of a hard day’s work, the value
of a dollar. [When] my parents were out of
work … [my dad] went around and started
mowing lawns around town and took me
along with him. I was 12 years old. We would
have our lawn mower and rake and walk
around town to make some extra money.
Q: Was it hard for you to have to leave
A: It was heart-wrenching. My dad delivered
the news, and my first impulse was like,