Pinky Cole Hayes gives 2024 Savannah State commencement speech, gifts graduates $8.75M entrepreneurial starter pack

Pinky Cole Hayes, renowned entrepreneur, 2023 TIME100 Next honoree, and founder of Slutty Vegan and Bar Vegan, gave an inspiring commencement speech for the Savannah State University 2024 graduating class, and surprised the graduates with a very special gift. In collaboration with Operation HOPE and One Million Black Businesses (1MBB), Pinky Cole will give every graduate of Savannah State University a membership to 1MBB and the class will receive $8.75 million dollars worth of in-kind services with Operation HOPE, which will include:

  • Entrepreneurial Educational Resources 
  • Mentoring From 1MBB, Including One-On-One Financial Counseling
  • An Eight-Week Small Business Training Course With Business Plan Development And Credit & Money Management Courses 
  • 3-Months Free With Shopify To Build Their E-Commerce Platform For Young Entrepreneurs Ready To Start Their Businesses 

One Million Black Businesses (1MBB) is a partnership with Operation HOPE and Shopify to start, grow, and scale 1 million Black businesses by 2030 to provide a successful path to wealth creation for the Black community.

“I am passionate about lifting up the next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs of our world. I know firsthand what it means to have mentorship and how someone believing in your dream can make a difference. This graduating class has experienced so much adversity. Their college years began with a global pandemic and they have had to navigate their lives through unprecedented events. Through it all, they have thrived and are ready to enter the ‘real world’ with more experience and the confidence to face life’s new challenges. I believe in these graduates, and I hope that this gift will help them as they transition into this next phase of their lives,” says Pinky Cole Hayes.

In her commencement speech at Savannah State University, Cole inspired the Class of 2024 with her personal journey and emphasized their resilience through historic challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic. She celebrated their adaptability, asserting that the world should adapt to them, not the other way around. Drawing on her own experiences of loss and success in building a multimillion-dollar brand, Cole highlighted the importance of perseverance and faith in overcoming life’s obstacles. Cole’s message was clear: the graduates are prepared to thrive as agents of change in a world that has tested them deeply.

Pinky has an impactful track record of uplifting young people, inspiring them, and supporting their dreams. In 2022, she gifted the graduating class of her alma mater, Clark Atlanta University, LLCs to begin businesses, and most recently, sponsored the Benjamin E. Mays High School prom, providing free admission to all students, as well as prom attire, catering, decorations, a DJ, and souvenirs. 

“Since I founded Operation HOPE, it was grounded in my experience as a young, Black entrepreneur seeking to reach one hand down the ladder to lift people up along with me. Entrepreneurship was the success trajectory I discovered, thanks to a banker who came to my elementary school to teach financial literacy, and taught me what an entrepreneur was. That banker changed my life,” said Operation HOPE CEO John Hope Bryant. “Pinky Cole Hayes is a living example of what happens when a brilliant idea meets opportunity. With 1MBB, we want to offer opportunities to as many brilliant ideas as we can reach and are excited to partner with Pinky to help lift up the next generation of Black entrepreneurial excellence,” says John Hope Bryant, CEO and Founder of Operation HOPE. 

“We are excited about this fantastic opportunity for our students and grateful to Mrs. Cole Hayes for leading this investment opportunity,” says Savannah State University Interim President Cynthia Robinson Alexander.

This donation will be a catalyst to the graduating class as they make their transition into the world providing them with tools to navigate their lives post-grad. The theme of Pinky’s commencement speech for Savannah State is Thriving Through Change, and impressing upon this class, who left high school during COVID and have missed many traditional events, celebrations and milestones that what has happened to them has happened for them, making them resilient and flexible in the face of adversity.

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