Walter M. Kimbrough
5 min readDec 14, 2017


December 13th. Dr. George Franklin Grant, Harvard University’s first Black professor, in 1899 received a patent for the modern golf tee. The birthday of NeNe Leakes and Jamie Foxx, both in 1967. Omarosa resigns from the White House (more on that later).

In 2004, it was the day I became president of Philander Smith College. So today officially starts my 14th year as a college president. As Pastor Shaun of First Grace UMC says during many Sunday sermons, “WOW!”

I had a major life milestone in 2017 — I turned 50. When I became a president, I was 37, and the average age of presidents was 58. Today, the average age is 62, so I am still on the young end but have more experience than most. In recent years I am surprised when I see the annual UNCF listing of presidents by seniority. I started at #37 on the list in 2004; today, I am #6, and move to #5 in July.

My 13th year can be described in one word.


After a character building year 12 (thanks in part to David Duke — a temporary pain that became a blessing), this year I had some great experiences, many which helped me grow as one of many higher education thought leaders. I take this role very seriously and want to be a vocal and effective advocate for students and families, especially those who attend HBCUs, and even more specifically, MY students and families of Dillard University.

This was the year that HBCU presidents found themselves in the Oval Office. There is only ONE picture where you can see me (I have it, and I’m not showing it!) I did my best to hide because I knew we had been hoodwinked! And Twitter kicked our ass!

There was no good that was going to come from this event, and in fact, every time there is a bad story about Black folks, a version of this picture is used.

Which is why I had to go on CNN the next day to set the record straight.

It put me in the dog house with my friend Omarosa for a while. Of course she is the news story of the day, but after her time ends in the White House, I’m going to tell the WHOLE STORY on the HBCU presidents in the White House.

The Whole Story!

So essentially Duke and Trump gave me chances to write about lots of issues — HBCUs, speech on campus, hazing, etc.

12 editorials, 32 print interviews, 15 electronic media interviews.

I even got to do Charlamagne’s show on MTV2! “Wow!”

I became the de facto Black expert on campus speech issues, and did panel discussions for ACTA (above), the University of Chicago, and the Education Writers Association. In addition I did about 4 webinars on the subject as well.

I continued to develop expertise in using social media as a college president. It was cool to be named to lists of the 25 presidents to follow on Twitter, 20 presidents to follow on Instagram, and one of 10 Twitter accounts every higher ed leader should follow.

Very quietly, this summer my account was verified. My SGA president thought this was a big deal, and I guess since I’m the first HBCU president with a verified account, maybe it is. Ready for someone to join me. Anyway, I got a personal kick out of it!

And I was deeply humbled to find myself on the cover of The Chronicle of Higher Education, the largest publication in higher education. I’m not sure how many times a president is on the cover, and an HBCU president is definitely a rare occurrence. So this was a huge honor for me.

For real, it was really huge…

… because it is the second time I have been on the cover. “Wow!”

All of this is cool. But these accolades aren’t my “WHY.” I’m reading Simon Sinek’s book which helps me to think about how I can better articulate not just my WHY, but Dillard’s WHY. Sinek writes:

By WHY I mean what is your purpose, cause or belief? WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care?… it’s worth repeating: people don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.

My 13th year was a great reminder of my WHYs. It’s celebrating with a family at graduation.

It’s making a Starbucks run for my commencement speaker!

It’s showing our students that if you think big enough, you can do things that most could never, ever do! (especially our rivals across town…)

This is my WHY.

So every year I go back to this picture. December 13, 2004. My first day as a college president. Less hair (and grayer). Maybe a few pounds lighter (exercise every day). And 13 years later I get to do what I love every day.


The Prez



Walter M. Kimbrough

12th president of Philander Smith College. 7th president of Dillard University. Now in an Intermission.