Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 2.04.39 PMYesterday was graduation. It’s a big day. For some, it was the first graduation in their family. Even for those who have seen a few, it’s a big, big deal. Parties, high-fives, discussion of the future…nothing beats graduation week. If teachers were in business, this’d be our product release, complete with the festivities, press-releases, and a feeling of relief.

But there’s another side to this story. This is the week that I sit with the people who didn’t make it. Sometimes it’s expected, and sometimes it’s a shock. There are a number of reasons. Family problems, children born, perhaps a good old-fashioned lack of effort. One or two will repeat senior year. One or two will leave us and drop out, never having finished. Gone into the haze to find their path. Or not. It remains to be seen…

There’s no speech for them. No accolades. No encouragement beyond the conversation we have. Just a folded up cap and gown retrieved from guidance that won’t make it out of the bag. This speech is for them:

To the Almost Class of 2013: 

You didn’t make it. I’m heartbroken. I truly am. I was one of the first to see you come into this school. We talked about your dreams. This week, I watched and listened you wiped your tears, and watched as your friends crossed the stage.  Some of you saw this coming, and others were shocked. You imagined this day for years. You had families fly in from out of town. In the end, you walked away from the school with that cap and gown you wouldn’t need, and I, too, wanted to cry.

Know this:

You are not a failure.  

LIfe throws punches. Sometimes pretty hard. When we can, we deflect, when we’re taken off guard, we take one square in the face. At times, it’s our fault, but sometimes the world really does conspire against us and we can’t keep our head above the chin-up bar. And we get hit.

We fail.

That’s when we find out what’s truly inside.

What’s your next move? When the world sets low expectations for you, do you believe or achieve? If you fall seven times, do you get up eight, or do you stay in the spot where you fell?

People will judge you. They’ll put you in a box.  “Failure is a detour, not a dead-end street.” said author and motivator Zig Ziglar. He wasn’t a failure. He was a pretty big success.

“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.” President Abraham Lincoln served during what might be said was one of the most difficult presidencies ever, crafting strategies that saved the union.

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than successful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated failures. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” President Calvin Coolidge didn’t speak much–they called him “Silent Cal.” But what he said here mattered.

“I’ve come to believe that all my past failure and frustration were actually laying the foundation for the understandings that have created the new level of living I now enjoy.” Success and Life Coach Anthony Robbins grew up in an abusive home, overcame amazing challenges, and became one of the leading motivators in the world. He literally gets people to walk across fire.

“It is best to have failure happen early in life. It wakes up the Phoenix bird in you so you rise from the ashes,” American Actor Anne Baxter reminded us, and educator Rodger Babson stated, “It is wise to keep in mind that neither success nor failure is ever final.”

You are not a failure, even if you have failed. You are not a failure if you stop, analyze the situation, and make your plan to get it done. Break it down and do a little something every day that contributes to “great.” Then do more.

You may walk through these doors again–may you return better than when you left. Go, and be great. When you come back, do so with stories, companies, great jobs, adventures and families, having accomplished things no one ever thought you’d do. You are not a failure. You’re a success starting today.

And never forget this: success is the best payback of all.