Kendall Ciesemier. Remember that name because you’ll no doubt be hearing it for a long time to come. This Georgetown grad is the founder of Kids Caring 4 Kids, an organization she started at 11 years old and the co-founder of OWN IT, a series of game-changing summits, events, and opportunities meant to inspire young women. Now that she has closed her chapter at Georgetown, Kendall has moved to New York City, where she is Norah O’Donnell’s assistant at CBS This Morning.
Throughout her life, Kendall has married purpose with serious hard work and vision in a fashion that would make anyone inspired. While you could look at her accolades–Glamour College Woman of the Year, feature on The Oprah Winfrey Show as a high school freshman with President Clinton, Chicagoan of the Year, and many more–what makes Kendall spectacular is the intention she integrates into her daily life.
Persistence, passion, and a purposeful focus. That’s Kendall Ciesemier.
All About Kendall
Name: Kendall Ciesemier
Location: New York City
Education: Bachelor’s of Arts at Georgetown University, Sociology, Journalism, and Theology
Current job: Assistant to Norah O’Donnell at CBS This Morning
What is your passion?
I would say my mission is to use my voice for others. I am passionate about many things but I think at its core I am passionate about using storytelling to shed light on human struggle. I am passionate about a lot of different forms of storytelling, or platforms you could say: documentaries, television news, scripted television, non-fiction books, etc.
You started Kids Caring 4 Kids when you were 11. Can you tell us about that?
I was born with a rare liver disease called Biliary Atresia that has plagued my life with illness, surgery, and uncertainty. From a young age I understood pain and struggle and could identify those feelings in the lives of others. In 2003, I first became aware of the plight of AIDS orphans by watching a TV special. I began to imagine myself, 11-year-old Kendall Ciesemier, alone, living in a mud hut, caring for my younger siblings and grieving the death of my parents. Having experienced struggles in my own life, their pain resonated with me and I was in awe of what appeared to be their unwavering hope. That night, I knew I had seen the opportunity I was waiting for—my chance to give my life more purpose than the chronic liver disease I had grown up fighting against.
I found my purpose in starting Kids Caring 4 Kids, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that works to inspire and empower young people to help provide basic human needs to children living in sub-Saharan Africa. As I underwent two liver transplants in the summer of 2004, I started by asking well-wishers to donate money, in lieu of gifts and flowers, to help me support the village of Musele, Zambia, the most highly affected area by the AIDS epidemic at the time. Through Kids Caring 4 Kids, 10,000 young people across the country banned together to do great things. In raising around one million dollars, we provided support to 8,000 individuals in four countries in sub-Saharan Africa through helping to build dormitories, orphan care centers, a clinic, classrooms, computer labs, a high school, and providing specially built bikes, indoor plumbing, healthy meals, and clean water.
What was the biggest thing you learned through Kids Caring 4 Kids? What did you discover about yourself?
If I’m being honest, I would say the biggest thing I learned through Kids Caring 4 Kids is that God can do anything with anyone. I started Kids Caring 4 Kids during the worst time in my life when I was very sick. God used me and my struggle to help so many more people and I will forever be grateful for that. Kids Caring 4 Kids is the biggest testament to me in my life that God has a purpose for everyone, all we have to do is be willing to listen.
What was your first internship and how did you land it?
My first internship was working for Harpo Productions (Oprah’s production company). I worked at Oprah Radio on three different shows. I got the job after going in to be interviewed on one of the shows and saying in the interview that I wanted to go into journalism/host my own show one day. The producer freaked out and asked me if I would like to come intern there. I still had to go through the interview process which was great because I learned a lot going through the process of interviewing. I had never interviewed for something like that before. It was an unpaid opportunity so I had to figure out a way to get college credit before I even got to college (this internship was during the summer after I had just graduated high school). I was so determined to do the internship so I called up my local community college every day until I found a professor who let me do a one-credit independent study with him. I really fought for myself because I did not want to let the fact that I was not already in college to prohibit me from having this opportunity. It taught me that persistence pays off.
Tell us about your other internships in college. What did you learn from them?
There were quite a few. I interned at FOX Chicago, Meet The Press, New Chapter Entertainment, and HuffPost Live. I also worked for mtvU as a college correspondent. Overall, I learned a lot of valuable lessons about how to work hard and stand out. My trick to standing out was to offer to get everyone in the newsroom coffee. That way, I would learn everyone’s name and they would learn mine. Then, when they had a cool assignment they gave it to me because I was the only intern who they knew!
While in college, you started OWN IT. Can you tell us more about that?
I started OWN IT with one of my best friends at Georgetown when we were part of a student group called GU Women in Leadership that wanted to host a culminating event to introduce their group to campus. Helen and I were assigned to design this event and we ran with it. We held the inaugural OWN IT Summit in April of 2014 and the success of that event spurred national expansion and independence for OWN IT.
Our mission is to bridge the gap between female leaders of the 21st century and the millennials who admire them, by shaking up the women’s leadership arena and producing game-changing opportunities for college-age women.
OWN IT was started to address the leadership gap. Women have filled the education gap. In fact, women are graduating college at higher rates than men. However, there is still a dearth of women sitting on corporate boards, in science and technology, in c-level positions, representing us in government, and in general leadership roles. We all know you cannot be what you cannot see. OWN IT seeks to provide young women with an opportunity to not just see, but to learn from and connect with women who are living out leadership in a variety of fields and positions. Similarly, OWN IT seeks to provide well-established women leaders with an outlet to give back and share what they have learned.
Working on OWN IT has been so full of purpose for me. I love it. I really have to stop here because I will just keep on going.
The OWN IT Summits have had incredible speakers, from major morning news anchors to famous actresses to wildly successful corporate executives. What have you learned from these women?
I am so grateful to have been in the presence of some remarkable women. You know how they say, “If you can see it, you can be it?” There is so much truth to that. These women have provided so many models for me to see what it looks like to excel in a variety of fields. Each year at the summit, a few themes come out. First, I would say, there is no shortcut to success, only hard work. Another tidbit would be: be bold and courageous in all that you do. I really hold on to that one because I think working hard is easier to will myself to do, but being bold takes constant decision-making to not play it so safe.
You certainly did a lot while you were at Georgetown. Quite simply, how did you make it all happen?
I’m a firm believer that you make happen what you want to make happen. I do actually think it’s that simple.
How did you use college to discover who you are?
I think I’ve had a pretty good grasp on “who I am” for a long time. I’ve dealt with a lot of serious health challenges for my entire life and that forced me to have a strong sense of self early on. The additional growing I did in college was 100% due to the incredible support system of people I had around me. I feel like professors and admins on college campuses are under-utilized resources.
Now you are working on Norah O’Donnell’s team at CBS This Morning. What made you want to be a part of her team?
Norah went to Georgetown (where I went) and we met through OWN IT/me running after her at an event (hint: always run after people you look up to). We developed a relationship from there. When the opportunity came to be on Norah’s team, I knew I wanted to take it, because I knew it would be an incredible learning experience to see how someone so smart, passionate, determined and ambitious, operates. I have tremendous respect for her and the work that she does and I want to learn from the best.
I also was excited to join CBS This Morning at large because it really is a news show. We are focused on bringing people what they need to know every morning and we are doing really well as a show too (doesn’t hurt!).
What does your role at CBS This Morning look like? Walk us through your average work day.
I get to work around 4:30-5:00am and start putting together the show binder for Norah which has all of the information for each of the segments for the show. Then I help Norah with whatever extra research or work she needs done before the show starts. During the show, I am in the studio listening in to the producers in the control room and Norah on set and I run information up to Norah and act as a liaison of sorts between Norah and producers. During the show I also try to catch up on some emails during the breaks. After the show I meet with Norah about upcoming guests, events, shoots, etc. Then it’s off to work on anything that needs to get done. My job has both administrative and editorial components and each day brings something new. There is no average and that’s why I like it!
The most valuable college experience I had was, hands down, starting OWN IT. I met so many incredible people, both at Georgetown and beyond. I learned a ton about how to manage a team, build and deliver a product, and troubleshoot daily problems. OWN IT very much defined my Georgetown experience and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Quick plug: If you want to host OWN IT at your college (we are at 6 colleges), send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You have taken on a plethora of leadership roles throughout your life. What is your number one piece of leadership advice?
My number one piece of leadership advice is to be a servant leader. Good leaders lift everyone else up. If you feel like you are sacrificing for others all the time, then you are probably doing it right.
What does fulfillment feel and look like for you?
I have actually been thinking about this a lot lately because when you graduate college as a senior, you really have hit a high in your life. You graduate with so much knowledge and experience. You likely held leadership positions in school and know a ton of professors, etc. I felt extremely fulfilled by the work I did and the life I led in college. Not to be all dark and gloomy here, but graduating college is hard. Suddenly you are relegated to the “6th grade” of life and you have to go through middle school (the worst time of life, in my opinion) again. You likely won’t be doing your most fulfilling work when you start your first job, and that’s to be expected. It’s your first job. But that doesn’t take away the feelings I felt by the transition. I am learning to find my fulfillment and worth in the kind of person I am seeking to be instead of just looking for my worth in my job, and that’s a really important lesson. I feel fulfilled when I am living in my purpose. And I’m finding more and more that my purpose is more broad and more simple than I thought. My purpose is to serve others and that can be done daily, both in and outside the confines of work.
What advice would you give to your college freshman self?
I would tell my freshman self that it might take until junior year to find real friends or to make real friendships at college, but that it would all work out. I would stress breathing deeply. I would also say, personally, embrace the uncertainty in your life. I know there’s a lot of it, but it will change the way you live your life for the rest of your life.
Behind the Scenes
What is your morning routine?
LOL, this is the most unsexy morning routine. There’s really nothing special to it. Because I have a job in morning television, my job consists of waking up at 4am. I then shower (I know… why?! But it really helps me wake up), blow dry and run the straightener over a few strands of hair, and then put mascara on, and eye shadow, if I’m feeling ambitious. Then I grab my stuff, put some clothes on and I’m out the door. I drink about a gallon of coffee once I get to work because it’s FREE and I’m TIRED!
Favorite websites, blogs, or magazines to read?
My favorite magazine is Glamour, hands down. That’s both because their content is bomb and they have been really good to me. I am REALLY digging Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner’s newsletter “Lenny.” And, I’m very into podcasts like “Call Your Girlfriend” and “Millennial.”
As far as content on the Internet, I am a creature of reading things I find on Twitter or reading random things my friend, Helen, sends me. My job is the news so it’s hard to separate work from pleasure when it comes to reading websites/news/blogs.
I am really into YouTube and often geek out watching The Hollywood Reporter roundtables about television writers and actresses. I’m a big TV nerd. I also love good internet video content and I study it because that’s where everything is going. I’m fascinated by YouTubers who have millions of subscribers. They are the future. So I guess for websites I would say youtube.com.
Who was your first girl crush? Who is your current girl crush? Why?
I’m going to use the phrase “kickass lady I looked up to” instead of girl crush, because I think it’s a better descriptor. The first kickass lady I looked up to was Hillary Duff in elementary school. I was a die hard Lizzie fan and I seriously thought that when I went to Italy in fifth grade with my family that someone was going to mistake me for a famous pop-star. Hah! Thanks for crushed dreams, Lizzie! I loved Hillary Duff because her character was so relatable to me at the time and because Hillary seemed like a very nice person.
I have way too many rad ladies I admire now, starting with my own boss, Norah O’Donnell. I really admire women who are smart, strong, not afraid or apologetic of their power, cunning, and use their voice for others. Here are a few additional examples: Lisa Ling, Amy Schumer, Mindy Kaling, Lena Dunham, Hillary Clinton, and Shonda Rhimes.
I have tons. Lots of Bible verses if I am being honest. Here’s one that isn’t: “All things splendid have been achieved by those who dared to believe that something inside of them was superior to circumstance.” I don’t know who said it. It was on a pillow I bought, but I love it.