The Mighty OAK

After much anticipation, I finally received feedback from one of the recipients:

“Kindness Grams are a simple, sweet, and meaningful way to make somebody’s day. It meant a lot receiving a Kindness Gram, and I definitely plan to make them for friends. Every person counts, and this idea proves that anyone can make a difference.”

It was in that moment I realized my experiment laid the seeds for a larger movement, a dorm-wide act of kindness could easily be launched into a campus-wide initiative, with potential to refine an entire culture by merely creating happiness. It wasn’t receiving this that was most interesting for me, rather it was the process of creating a solution to a real problem. Let me give some context…

Going to college is like going through puberty all over again. Some try to “fit in,” while others go out of their way to make themselves stand out. Every day brings something new, some kind of feelings, or stress, or experience that is completely new. Some days feel great, while some days feel subpar. But, in the end, after four years of tumbling around campus, commitments, relationships and classes, we are promised some sort of growth. The main difference between puberty part I and puberty part II (college), is that while the growth in part I is in part physical (height, hair and haught, as I was taught), the growth in puberty part II is purely intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. What both parts share is growing pains, and the sense of insecurity that comes along with self-discovery.

Recently, I have been feeling those “growing pains” quite a bit. I find myself, like many other Dukies, in a culture of ambition. We keep climbing the mountain without taking the time to look at the view as we ascend. Instead of looking at a B+ as above average, I find myself thinking of it as lower than an A-. Instead of appreciating where I am now, I am constantly searching for the next internship, step, career path post-graduation. Instead of focusing on how good of a person I have become because of what I learned here, I am constantly self-critical looking to refine myself as quickly and efficiently as possible. Yes, perhaps that’s the word. Efficient. Duke’s student body is very efficient. And, in that efficiency I sometimes find it difficult to maintain happiness and a sense of purpose. It is in the “efficiency curse” that the sense of human kindness and genuineness can sometimes be lost.

Growing pains are not unique to me. Neither are their effects. I know others are climbing their mountains and fearing the consequences of ever taking the time to look around and appreciate how far they have come. I know that dedicating time in one’s day for self-reflection is difficult. And, I know that there is an entire center, The Wellness Center, on campus dedicated to helping students make the time for self-reflection and mindfulness. While the Wellness Center is making progress at increasing mindfulness, harmonizing a culture of ambition with self-reflection remains a work in progress. So, this past week I decided to embark on a research action project to explore ways to improve happiness around campus.

I limited the research to two short questions: “What was the nicest thing someone ever did for you? and “Where do you feel happiest?” I asked these questions to my friends, my family, random people on campus, and even to myself, and found fascinating results.

Time and again people would say the nicest “thing” that someone else ever did was pass a thoughtful compliment of some kind, typically the more “random” the compliment the more “nice” it was perceived as. It is interesting how much the element of surprise plays into our perception of genuinity. People also almost always identified their home or their dorm as the place they feel happiest and at peace with themselves. I now knew that the best way to spread happiness was with some small, random act of kindness that was nearby one’s dorm. I was done with my research.

I spoke with my closest friend about my findings. Together we brainstormed actionable ideas for spreading kindness. After much deliberation I came up with the idea of delivering anonymous “kindness-grams” (bags with a personalized note and a sweet fruit) to some people in our LLC as a pilot. My friend then retorted saying “YES! Let’s call them something cute…. How about One of a Kind, OAK.” So it was settled. I would commit to writing, designing, making and delivering an anonymous kindness-gram each day for the next week. I created a gmail (OAKinitative101@gmail.com), with the intent of allowing recipients of kindness-grams to write more grams to their friends and hopefully create a ripple effect. I was eager to begin.

My first note was as follows:

“Hi ***,

     You really made my FDOC and FWOC amazing. Coming to Duke wasn’t easy for me, but you have made the transition super smooth since the beginning. Your sense of humor, gratitude and ability to make those around you happy is so awesome. I am so grateful to have met you. Keep up with the magic, and I look forward to making more great memories with you. Here’s a fruit because I know you are vegan now 🙂  I hope you enjoy, you deserve it!

All the best,


P.S. This kindness-gram was sent especially to you and delivered by OAK, a new campus-wide initiative promoting kindness and happiness.  If you want to send a kindness-grams to others please email us with your name (if you want it to appear on the message), the name of the recipient, the recipient’s room number, the message you want to send and any dietary restrictions the recipient has. We are also interested in your feedback so we can make our kindness-grams even better. You can email us at OAKinitiative101@gmail.com.”


Delivering this note outside my friend’s dorm room brought with it much anticipation and excitement. I waited patiently for a response, checking my email constantly, until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore and fell asleep…

Day two came, and I decided to deliver that day’s kindness-gram early in the morning to avoid late-night anticipation. Plus, I knew this friend was an early riser anyway.  I wrote:

“Hi ****

     I am writing this to you as you start senior year. I know we are all going through a time of self-discovery, and that is never easy on anyone. In this time, I want to let you know how much you mean to me, and how much I value your friendship. I always enjoy our conversations and am confident that whatever you end up doing, you will kick ass at it, because you are just that kind of person. Thank you for being there for me and listening when I need someone to listen. Looking forward to what the future holds!



Including the same P.S. paragraph that invites the recipient to leave feedback and/or send their own kindness-grams. Yet, by the end of the day, the gmail was still empty and I was a bit crushed, figuring I must have made some mistake in the research process…

It wasn’t until noontime on day three that I received my first feedback (the comment that this post begins with). I cannot describe the emotions that rushed through me when I first read that. When I realized the potential of this idea was not just something my closest friend and I theorized about, it was something real.

Later that day, I received additional feedback from the second recipient:


I received my first OAK kindness-gram earlier this week, and it made me so happy to read the letter/eat the snack! I really felt appreciated, and I think that this new initiative has a great purpose and will definitely take-off! 

I would like to send out a few OAK kindness-grams myself! I have included the message/recipients below…”

The message continued with over ten kindness-gram requests, each with a personalized note attached to it. OAK had its first request for kindness-grams. The movement was taking off, and people’s days were ready to be a bit brighter.

I write this piece shortly after receiving that first request, with the emotions of entrepreneurial excitement that cannot be tamed. With the hopes that the future will be brighter for those OAK touches. With the aspirations for OAK to turn from a small acorn into a mighty (oak) tree with roots all over campus and beyond because although going to college is like going through puberty all over again, knowing how much people care about you and telling people how much you care about them makes it a heck of a lot easier.

If you have interest in sending a kindness-gram, getting involved with One of a Kind, or have any questions about OAK feel free to email OAKinitiative101@gmail.com. Also, as always, I am interested in hearing your feedback so please email me with your thoughts at carlins101@gmail.com. Thank you for reading!

Andrew Carlins is a Master of Management Studies student at Fuqua from Oceanside, New York. His research interests involve the intersection of immigration, economic integration, and religion. During the GradEngage Fellowship, Andrew will work with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and Beth El Synagogue in Durham to explore ethics and the pursuit of purpose during COVID-19 across three generations. Andrew has a B.S from Duke where he studied Economics, History, and Jewish Studies and graduated with honors and distinction.

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