Clark Atlanta University alumna and commencement speaker Pinky Cole gave the graduates a very big surprise! Jonathan Raymond shares more in the 11Alive story.

“Every single graduate in this audience will leave this stadium as a business owner.”

One of Atlanta’s most dynamic recent success stories made a gesture to pay it forward to the next generation on Saturday – telling them she wants them, as she did, to fail, and then “find aspiration in the losses.”

Pinky Cole, the founder of Slutty Vegan, gifted LLCs to the Clark Atlanta University graduating class of 2022, encouraging them to go down the same entrepreneurship path that she has flourished along.

“Every single graduate in this audience will leave this stadium as a business owner,” she said.

Ariyana Griffin, a CAU Mass Media Arts grad, said she felt “amazing” to be getting a “tool that I know I can use to push me forward not only in my career but in life period.”

In a commencement address, Cole told the graduates of her own stumbles after she herself graduated from Clark Atlanta in 2009. 

She spoke of how she reluctantly went to Houston to work for a teaching organization, needing to take just any job that came along, and “all it took was five days for me to realize I was not cut out to be a classroom teacher.”

From there, she spoke about how she borrowed $40 from a friend and went to the airport, not knowing what to do with herself.

An airline employee encountered her crying, she said, and went and got her $240 to get her on a plane home.

“Why am I telling you this? I’m telling you this because 13 years later, that same broken and broke little girl now owns and operates not one, but two multimillion-dollar businesses in the middle of a pandemic,” Cole told the graduates.

“I’m telling this to you, the class of 2022,” she said, “that I want you to fail.”

In failure, Cole said, is where you can find inspiration.

“I want you to fail so hard you become an expert in failure and you get a PhD in failology, she said. “I want you to fail because failing is not failing at all – it is finding aspiration in the losses.”

At the end of her address, she revealed to the graduating class that she had partnered with Varo Bank to purchase the LLCs.

Cole told 11Alive the total cost was more than $400,000.

“Pinky Cole had a business and lost everything. My car got repo’d, got kicked out of my house, went flat broke, almost lost my mind – and almost four years later, she now owns and operates at $100 million vegan brand. She found aspiration in the losses,” Cole said. “You think I was gonna give up because of some failure? Hell no. And neither will you.”