Have You Heard?


Kimberly Jenkins Speaks at Greek Convocation

Kimberly Jenkins
September 16, 2016

Thank you for that introduction. I’m honored to be here tonight. I’ve been to the chapel before. I even got married in this chapel many years ago. 

But I’ve never been at this podium.

I teach classes, run programs and give speeches at Duke all the time, but I’ve never had a chance to speak to so many students at once and certainly not in the chapel. 

So this is a new experience for me. I mean it when I say I’m honored to be here tonight with all of you. 

I hope to honor you back by sharing with a few stories and lessons learned from my life.  I hope to give you something to think about, something to talk about with your friends and perhaps something that will influence your life here at Duke and life beyond Duke.

The story that resonates most with all kinds of people dates back to the years shortly after I graduated from Duke, a time when I was just a few years older than you are now. 

I was fresh out of Duke, had just moved to Seattle. I did not have a job, but I had a passion for mountain climbing so I moved to the best place in America to climb mountains. 

I needed to support my climbing and backpacking habit so I had to get a job.  That was a fairly drawn out process, but the bottom line is that I ended up at a little, no-name company called Microsoft. 

There were 300 employees at the time and I was hired as a designer of programs that would teach people how to use Microsoft software without opening up a manual. My office was in among all the programmers who were working on these products. 

After a few months there, something interesting evolved.  All the programmers had paper over their windows, even interior windows. They lived in a climate of secrecy because they were working on confidential stuff: the development of the first software for the Macintosh. 

Immediately, I saw how powerful this could be for a market I knew a lot about: colleges and universities.  I knew that software could be a powerful teaching and learning tool. 
Seems obvious today, but back then not one software company was thinking about the education market. Apple and IBM were but software had to be part of the solution. And I wanted to help Microsoft get there.

I used what I call my two manila folder strategy.  My boss was Steve Ballmer, who for many years was president of the company. 

I went in to meet with Steve and handed him one manila folder. In it was my one page proposal for starting an education division at Microsoft. I wanted to sell off the shelf software to colleges and universities. 

Well, Steve Ballmer is big in stature and big in personality. He listened to me for a few minutes and said “That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard. We’ll never make any money in education.” 

So I handed him my second manila folder, my resignation letter. 

Steve puffed and blustered a bit and told me to sit right there while he went in to talk to Bill, as in Bill Gates. So I sat there and in a few minutes Steve came back. 

He said “Bill thinks that’s the stupidest idea he ever heard.  Microsoft won’t ever make any money in education.” As I was getting up to leave, Steve said “But he loves your chutzpah. He wants you to stay. You can’t have any headcount. You can fly anywhere you want, but it’s just you.”

That was February of 1984. By the end of our fiscal year, December 1984, education sales accounted for 10% of Microsoft’s domestic revenue. With the salary of one person and a lot of airplane tickets! 

You can believe that Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer were happy that Microsoft was making money. They then gave me the resources to build a real team. 

I can talk for hours about how this illustrates key principles of innovation and entrepreneurship. 

But what does this story have to do with empowerment? In thinking about this, I remembered the questions students typically ask me about this story:

1. What do you do when your boss tells you your idea is the stupidest thing he ever heard?

2. How did I have the courage to resign a good job when I had no money and not much of a resume to get a new job?

3. What made me think I was smart enough and talented enough to put my job on the line for something I didn’t really know would work?

I’ve come up with a framework and a few stories that attempt to answer those questions and address the issue of empowerment.

1. I believe in myself

2. I live my own life script and don’t allow others to define me

3. I make intentional, deliberate choices about how to live my life


1. The foundation for being bold enough, risk oriented enough to put my job on the line with Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates was this: I believed in myself. 

A big part of my sense of self originated with my family.  My parents talked about and lived values that all of us in the family adopted.  Kinda had to in order to be at our dinner table. 

They consistently told me that I could “go for it” and “be anything I worked hard enough to be.” And they challenged me with questions about what I value in life and how those values translate into how I treat others.

I had to work hard to “own” all of this myself: the high school achievements, a Duke education, graduate school and experiences in all the jobs leading up to Microsoft and beyond. 

When I did the hard work at school and in jobs, leveraged my core values, and took in inspiration and lessons learned from others, I grew to know and respect myself.

After all of this, I finally realized and embraced that I know what I know. In this situation, I knew how the needs of educators could turn into a major opportunity for Microsoft to make money.  I believed enough in myself to work hard and realize the pretty clear goal that Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer put out there for me.  I knew my passion for education. 


2. I create my own life path, I don’t let others define me.

There’s a universal need to belong and to be loved.  We all want to be heard, known and accepted by others.

This desire to be accepted exists within the very real context of powerful cultural forces. We live with strong messages about what it takes to be liked by others and to belong to the group.

This is especially true when it comes to what it takes to be a “real woman” and a “real man.” Too often we give up our true selves and yield to cultural forces that might allow us to be accepted by some, but often at a huge cost to ourselves.

Carol Gilligan of Harvard and James Mahalik of Boston College, in separate research work done over the past decade or so, point out the fairly strict demands that all of us live with in this culture. 

The script we give boys starts super early in life. Typically around the age of five boys are told what it takes to be a “real man.” 

-Masculinity often implies a willingness on the part of boys to stand alone and forgo relationships in order to maintain power and voice.

-Men are valued for money, status, power

-They have to fit into a norm of being all knowing, successful, financially ambitious, and dismissive of others who are “lesser than,” especially women.

-Boys and men must show confidence. They can’t cry, can’t ask for too much nurturing, can’t have too much empathy. They must sacrifice self in order to fit in with the group.

-Boys and men must have a physically imposing presence, show some athletic ability or be avid sports fans.  Boys and men are punished for being perceived as “weak” which is typically associated with being feminine or gay.

Last fall I co-taught a course at Duke called Media and Innovation.  One day at the end of class, the students wanted to talk openly about life at Duke.

One guy said that whenever he interacts with girls here he is almost always impressed. They tend to be smart, fun, engaging people he’d like to know better.  He likes a lot of the girls at Duke!

But when he goes back to his fraternity, he engages in group-talk that dismisses, demeans and degrades those very same girls. But here’s the part that’s most interesting to me: he really doesn’t like being that way.

This guy was courageous enough to say to a class of his peers that too often he regrets how he talks and behaves when he’s with the guys in his fraternity.

Other guys in the class agreed. They too had the strength to say that they don’t feel better about themselves when they denigrate others.  

As you might imagine, the girls don’t like this deal either.

Everyone is feeling like the stakes are incredibly high in the social environment here at Duke. So we go on behaving in prescribed ways that don’t really work for anyone.  The guys, the girls, everyone is feeling pretty disconnected and bad about themselves in this environment. It’s a losing proposition for all. 

Girls are given a few more years than boys to be whomever they want to be, but by the age of 11 or 12, acceptable female behavior means girls are:

-nice or sweet
-relationship oriented
-nurturing to others
-physically attractive and continually focused on looking thin and pretty
-submissive, and
-deferential to men

As I mentioned earlier, I had a desire to fit in and find acceptance and love just like everyone else.  I had enough of the required feminine qualities and attributes to belong and be accepted as a woman.

But somehow I didn’t get the memo on being silent, submissive or deferential! 

I didn’t spend too much time on my hair, make-up and clothes. I spent my time being an athlete, enjoying real friendships with men and women alike, and building companies that make a difference in the world. 

I didn’t engage in self-deprecation that is so common among women. I embraced who I am, including my imperfect body or bad hair days or whatever.  When I liked myself “as is”, I found that others, including men and other women liked me better too. 

I refused to be silent. I spoke up when I had something worthy of saying.

When someone said the “b-word” to my face or behind my back, I wasn’t without some feelings, but I tried hard to let it roll off my back. I saw this as a reflection of their insecurities or their own sense of inadequacy.  I refused to give my time or energy to people who stoop to name-calling or criticizing others for sport. 

I didn’t defer to men, I gravitated to the really good men who are out there and collaborated with them.

I wasn’t submissive, I made a point of working with, dating and marrying men who valued me as an equal and wanted to connect with me at a real level. 

The payback that I’ve enjoyed by following my own path in life is this: I’ve enjoyed money, power and choice in what I do with my life. 

I have respect in the business community and a lot of freedom about what I do professionally.

I have great friends who are there for me and vice versa.

I have the love of my husband, sons and extended family. 

People know who I am because I engage with people as authentically as possible, with all my warts and wonderfulness.

They don’t all think I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread, but they relate to the real me. And if they don’t, I move on to focus my time and energy on the many kind, fun, authentic, simply awesome people who are out there.

I feel compelled to say one more thing about all of the cultural pressures and hoops that women and men jump through.  In fact, I get pretty wound up about this stuff. 

After more than a few decades of wrestling with these standards and expectations myself
as well as watching my sons, husband and good friends deal with all of this,
I’m convinced that this is utter nonsense. 

It’s nonsense to buy into these concepts, to try so hard to please others, to aim to be perfect at standards that are ridiculous from the start and to give up who you really are in order to fit in.  To all of you I say: please don’t engage in nonsense.  Life is truly too short. 

3. I’m intentional and deliberate about the choices I make in life.

My life has not been one series of great adventures that have hugely happy endings. 

Some of this wisdom is hard earned stuff and I rarely got it right on the first pass.

The best way I found to get through the tough times is to be as thoughtful and intentional about life choices as possible.

I have one more story for you.  In the last few years, especially in business circles, the power of teamwork has become celebrated.

Many leaders are now fond of touting the NOAH rule. For those of you who haven’t heard this one yet, it translates to “No A-Hs” allowed on the team. 

Since I’m in the chapel, I’ll go with the phrase “no jerks.”  Jerks can be disruptive and sap the life out of any team.

I recently met with a friend who is an experienced venture capitalist and all round great human being.  I often turn to him when I want either business or life advice. 

Just a couple of weeks ago I was pitching my next new business venture to him and with some confidence I said “I’m all about building a great team of people. Of course, we’ll follow the NOAH principle.” 

He stopped me cold with a brilliant response. “Kimberly, it’s not about ‘no jerks.’  It’s all about choosing to be with only awesome people.”

That’s a seemingly small change of words and it took me awhile to really get it.  But once I did, I realized this is what it’s really all about.

I won’t waste my energy focusing on the negative like how to avoid jerks. I intentionally surround myself with awesome people.

-I intentionally look for and focus on the positive

-I listen and really hear others

-I have empathy for those who don’t feel good about themselves but I don’t give them my energy or attention if they aren’t interested in being open and fair to me or others

-I try to give myself a “timeout” and self correct if I’m not being my best self

-If I blow it, especially if I blow it big time, I take a close look at my mistakes or whatever pain I’m experiencing and I work hard to move beyond that.

I’ve been here for a few minutes sharing my stories and my lessons learned in life.  Now it’s my turn to ask something of you. 

I’m asking you to take a few minutes, ideally soon, maybe even tonight, to find a place where you can be by yourself.

For a few minutes put aside the grades, the groups you belong to, what people think of you, what you think of others, the aspirations you have here at Duke or your goals for the future. 

Ask yourself three questions:

1. Who are you inside?

2. What are your core values?

3. How does your behavior align with who you are and what you value?

It might help to get a little more specific on that last one:
What jokes or stories do you tell?
Do you laugh along when others tell stories that bother you?

Do you participate in the parties your sorority or fraternity holds with themes that don’t really reflect who you are? 

How about rush? 
Does your sorority or fraternity go about rush in a way that is aligned with who you are?

Do you ever drink so much alcohol that you no longer take responsibility for who you are? 
What would it feel like to socialize in ways that allow you to be true to yourself and still have a good time?

These days there's a lot in the news about rape on college campuses across America.
How do you feel about creating a campus free of rape here at Duke?
What might your fraternity or sorority do to put an end to date rapes? 
What might you do as an individual?

Who are the awesome people in your life right now?
Make a list and think about them for a few minutes.  
How might you avoid the jerks in life and focus on finding more awesome people?
How might you build deeper relationships with those awesome people?

The way you go through Duke is formative for the rest of life.

It is much harder to change the bad habits you build here than it is to develop and cultivate effective and positive ones to take with you after Duke.

How you treat others now does matter. The choices you make now powerfully influence the choices you are likely to make later.
If you can be courageous at Duke, you can be courageous anywhere.

Thank you again for this honor of sharing some time with you tonight.


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My Residence Life Family

As a junior I thought I was prepared for the upcoming school year, especially in my role as a second year RA on East Campus. I expected my life to be relatively similar to my sophomore year in Bell Tower, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the changes that have come with a new RA team in Blackwell this year. Not only do I have 34 new freshmen in my hallway, but I also have five new RA’s who have become my residence life family.

Even as an RA, I sometimes feel slightly out of place being an upperclassman on a freshman campus. It’s hard to maintain relationships with the people in my own class because I live far away, and sometimes it’s difficult to be close friends with freshmen because they view RA’s as an authority. But that’s why it’s important to have a few RA friends who are in the same situation. Facing the same challenges brings us closer together, and when the RA team is strong, the overall community of the dorm is stronger, too.

The Blackwell team this year is five sophomores and myself, so I’ve become the “veteran” RA. I’m more confident this year in my ability to build community through planning events, and I’ve helped the new RA’s to learn about the logistics of our role; the paperwork, planning, and meetings can be a little confusing at the beginning of the year. However, I have had a lot to learn from them as well. They bring fresh new ideas to the team, and they have renewed my enthusiasm for building community. It can be frustrating when people don’t come to programs, but having a team of new RA’s who are excited to work hard for the dorm is refreshing and inspiring.

Before the freshmen arrived on campus, the RA’s went through a week of training to learn and practice the skill of solving problems. We discussed the policies and procedures of dealing with various situations ranging from alcohol and drugs to homesick and depressed students. It’s a lot of information to pack into one week, and after training during the day the teams in each dorm completed tasks such as putting up bulletin boards, making door decorations, and checking for damages. Training could be overwhelming and stressful, but the challenges provided a great way to bond with the other RA’s on our teams. We worked in small groups to accomplish tasks and shared individual experiences during training sessions to help each other learn about new ways to solve problems. When we weren’t working we spent time together at the gym, watching movies, and getting to know one another better. I’m appreciative to have such a supportive team to work with this year, and I’m excited to see how we’ll continue working together to create a home for the freshmen of Blackwell.

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Take Your Nutrition News with a Grain of Salt

In the past few days, news of a recent study praising the health benefits of a low-carb diet has spread like wildfire through headlines and across the Internet.  Good Morning America featured a segment entitled, “Low-Carb May Trump Low-Fat in Diet Wars” and urged listeners to “back away from the bagel” if they were watching their figures.  TIME magazine exclaimed, “If you’re trying to lose weight, fat might be your friend” and was joined in the lipid lauding frenzy by National Public Radio whose online article leads with “Turns out, eating foods with fat…doesn’t make us fat.”  The New York Times, where I and many other students I know turn for breaking news, issued “A Call for a Low-Carb Diet” and it quickly became the most emailed story on the day of its publication.  But before we as readers get too caught up by these attention-grabbing statements, it’s important to investigate what’s really lying beneath the headlines. 


To start, I’ll summarize my take-aways after reading the New York Times article on this breaking nutrition news.  The article presented the findings of a study published in the September 2014 volume of the Annals of Internal Medicine and funded by the National Institutes of Health – already, this is sounding highly credible with such big names on board.  The study looked at a “racially diverse group of 150 men and women” (yay for generalizability!) who were split into two groups that each received different dietary guidelines.  The low-fat group was instructed to limit their total fat intake to less than 30% of their daily calories as recommended by the federal government guidelines – seems reasonable.  The low-carb/high-fat group upped their fat intake to more than 40% of their daily calories and were told to eat mostly foods like fish, olive oil, nuts, cheese, and red meat.  Both were encouraged to eat veggies and neither group had to watch their calories nor change levels of physical activity.  At the end of a year, the low-carb group lost an average of eight pounds more than the low-fat group, had greater reductions in body fat and greater increases in lean muscle mass, and significantly lowered their heart attack risk.  Seems simple, sign me up!  I can lose weight, build muscle, and have a healthy heart just by eating my eggs and bacon, no exercise or calorie counting required. 


Now before you order up that next cheeseburger without its bun, it’s important to step back from the media and critically assess what the research is really telling us.  David L. Katz, a doctor and director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, published an insightful response article to the low-carb craze headlines, bringing to light some crucial caveats of the study that nearly all news articles are glossing over.  First, not all fats or carbohydrates are created equal so it’s inaccurate and counterproductive to talk about diets in such umbrella terms like low-fat or low-carb.  Secondly, it needs to be known that all study participants had BMIs categorizing them as obese, making the results not nearly as generalizable as they have been portrayed.  Lastly, the true diet conditions for the low-carb and low-fat groups in the study have been very poorly communicated to the public.  Comparing the diet guidelines given in the study with the participants’ pre-study diets reveals that the low-fat group only reduced fat intake by 5%, while the low-carb group reduced carbohydrate intake by nearly 75%.  In light of this evidence, it makes sense that the much more restrictive diet would result in greater weight loss. 


To conclude, Katz leads us away from the trendy diet fads and recommends eating whole foods in sensible quantities.  He also recommends that we approach health headlines with a more careful eye to see past the sensationalism that can make a good story, but not the best lifestyle advice.  It’s important to be aware that not all of the facts surrounding a research study’s methods and findings make their way into the media’s presentations.  But, that doesn’t mean that we need to write off all health and wellness news as nonsense – if a headline does make your head turn, dig a little deeper, seek out more details from primary sources, and look at what other experts and critical voices in the field have to say.  With a little extra effort, you’ll find the news that’s really worth your attention.      


Note of Interest: A few days after this initial media firestorm, the New York Times re-published the article with a new headline, “A Call for a Low-Carb Diet that Embraces Fat.”   


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Recruiting Student Disciplinary Advisors - Application Due September 15, 2014 by Noon

The Office of Student Conduct is recruiting student Disciplinary Advisors for the 2014-15 academic year. Disciplinary Advisors are individuals trained in the undergraduate disciplinary process. They offer information about how the system works, advice on how to approach each stage of the process, and general support to peers. Although primarily supporting students facing some of the most serious alleged violations of academic or non-academic policies, Disciplinary Advisors serve as a resource to all students with questions about community standards or the disciplinary process.

Any undergraduate may apply for this unique leadership opportunity by September 12, 2014.  A full position description is available here.

ONLINE APPLICATION (due September 15 by noon): http://tinyurl.com/2014ApplyDA

More information available at:



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The Inevitable Adventures of the Day

Hey Dukies! I'm back in the Dirty D and it feels so good. As one of the few juniors who has remained in Durham for the Fall, I have to say that I'm pumped to be part of the elite few who elected for “Duke in Durham” this semester.

This past summer, I lived in rural Nepal for 3 months working for the United Nations. Though Duke was instrumental in giving me that experience, the experience itself was largely Duke-less. I woke up most mornings wondering how I, on my own, was going to navigate the inevitable adventures of the day. (Care for the details? I blogged there, too. Here's the link: http://thelifeperipatetic.tumblr.com) And though this past summer was one of the most rewarding of my life, I'm glad I'm back at Duke. Because I've realized, to tweak that familiar saying, that you can take the Duke student out of Duke, but you can't (by the time she's a rising junior) take Duke out of the student.

I'm still trying to figure out why. Maybe some people would argue that it's due to the trauma of successive mid-term seasons. But I have a few other ideas... Like the fact that more and more, you realize that the people you find yourself missing are the ones not from your home state, but from the Gothic Wonderland. It is because you get up at 1:45am Nepali time to watch the World Cup finals live, because you're craving some stadium spirit that rivals Duke's. It is getting off the plane into the US after months abroad, and realizing that you want your first meal to be the baked oatmeal from the Div Cafe. Nothing else will do.

Bottom line—my months away from Duke (and Duke's people) has helped me appreciate and admit my attachment to this place. This blog is one way to try and do that attachment justice. So, if you're interested for another year of my (attempted) witticisms, observations, and reflections, stay tuned!

Thanks for reading.


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Student Health Closed on 9/1

The Student Health Center will be closed on Monday, 9/1, in observance of the Labor Day holiday.

We will re-open with normal operating hours on Tuesday, 9/2, at 8:30am.

For after-hours care and nurse advice, please call 919-681-9355.


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