Congrats to all students graduating this spring! You will be hearing commencement speeches lauding you, wishing you success and letting you know that you are the future. While wishing you success, seldom are you challenged to think about the meaning of success and how to keep the zest for life you now think you will never lose.

Perhaps the most memorable commencement speech was one given by John W. Gardner to the graduates of San Jose State College. He told them that while they have learned and, in some ways, been able to mold their own environment, they have done so without yet appreciating the power they have to change their lives. He told them they leave college thinking they will always have the capacity to learn, and it is important to look to people that are 20 to 30 years older than they are, who are very much alive and still eager to learn new things.

He said, "Some people keep it as long as they live. Until the day they die they keep a sense of wonder, of curiosity, of zest. They care about things. They reach out. They enjoy life. They risk failure. They discover new things about themselves." He then posed the question to the graduates: how many of them would be like that 30 years from now? He challenged them to always keep their capacity to learn — that it required the willingness to try new things and to fail.

There are those who seem to have stopped growing and stuck in old ways of doing things. As Gardner pointed out, building their own prisons, " … constructed of habit, apathy, fear, selfishness and self-deception." More and more it looks like we have created a culture where we are stuck in our old theories about life and have stopped listening to another person's point of view. We are now bombarded by a plethora of ideas and views and tend to listen only to those that agree with us. We see fewer people listening to each other or finding out they were right and we were wrong. They are the ones that stopped growing. And it's not a matter of age. There are those that are old at 22, and there are those who at 92 never stopped learning.

Learning to fail is an important part of life. It allows us to weather the hurt and hardships all humans experience at some time in our lives. It helps us learn how to handle them and move on. We can learn from infants as they grow up. They are constantly failing and never count their failures. They learn to walk by falling and picking themselves up. They learn from failure and dare to risk. Scientists learn from their failures, as do successful athletes. They expect and learn from failures. Individuals who never fail, never accomplish anything.

Learning to fail requires motivation to pursue your dreams and deepest convictions about the things you love, your loyalties and your values. That should be what guides one's life, not material things or what others may think about you. Let that be how you measure success — because you are learning and you are your own scorekeeper.

A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education. Email him at