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Five things I learned at HHS that have carried me throughout my career

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By Jim Thompson
HCP columnist

I have recently had the occasion to explain to people lacking an engineering degree why they don’t necessarily need such credentials in order to think and understand – in the practical world – as an engineer might. As I noodled this over the last few weeks, it morphed into the identification of things I learned at Hillsboro High School that have served me very well in my career over the last 51 years.

Keep in mind, at the time I had no clue how important these would be. I was just going along like every other teenager and making decisions based on my limited view of the world at the time along with some help from my parents (high school grads) and others. I would never have dreamed these would be as important to me as they have been.

So, in no order, except for the first, I thought I would share them.

• First and foremost is my writing skill. I have been told I am a natural writer, and people are often amazed at how fast I can lay down my thoughts. Seems normal to me. Yet, I give all the credit to Mr. Kenny in our senior English class. Having to write a two-page essay due every Friday during that year has paid untold benefits for me in my career.

• Taking a year of typing was an amazingly fortuitous decision. We didn’t know computers were coming – at least not computers like we have today. Having this skill has been a godsend. Again, I was not prescient, just extremely lucky to have made the decision to take this course. And in those days, for a boy, the boy/girl ratio was pretty good in this class.

• Learning dimensional analysis in chemistry class. Dimensional analysis is a way whereby you can solve complex problems by breaking them into little pieces. Yes, it requires you to have a basic understanding of algebra, but it does not require math any higher than that.

Everyone knows a bit of dimensional analysis. I’ll demonstrate: If a car is going 60 miles per hour, how far does it go in two hours? That is a simple dimensional analysis problem. One of the most powerful tools I ever learned in mathematics – and I learned it in a high school chemistry class.

• Orthographic drawing. I took mechanical drafting my senior year in high school. I don’t think it is even taught any longer. However, when figuring out how the world is assembled and being able to read drawings as well as create them, it has served me very well. You might say it even paid for over three years of my college education as I had a drafting job for a co-op assignment. There is still an old-fashioned, working drawing board in my office.

• Trigonometry. This is a bonus and not nearly as important as the other four I have already mentioned. Yet, combining mathematics and spatial relationships, trigonometry made precision out of 3-D visualizations.

Granted, I set my goal to be a mechanical engineer. I have succeeded at that, beyond my wildest dreams. In college, I took all sorts of courses in all manner of subjects that I was told were necessary to earn a diploma in this field. My advisers and professors were correct to the extent those courses were necessary to earn a degree. And having that piece of paper was the entry ticket into a number of great jobs, especially early in my career.

A number of great jobs, where on a day-to-day basis, I fell back on these five skills learned at HHS in order to succeed once inside the doors. You may have your sights set on another career, and there may be things you learn in high school in other areas that will be just as important to you in that career as these were to me in my career.

The important point here is that high school is not a throw-away; good teachers teach good and valuable principles.

Now, let me quickly say, young people, don’t read into this little column that I am saying college or tech skills are not important. They are. They are the “finishing school” for careers. What I am saying is watch what you learn as you go along, it just may be surprising what skills are the ones you lean on in order to flourish in your career.

And if you are already getting along in your career and feeling sorry for yourself, perhaps even inferior, because you did not acquire certain skills or diplomas, for whatever reason, get rid of that thought quickly – it is poison. You likely have the skills for a great career and a great income – even at mid-career – if you merely check what is hiding in the cobwebs of your mind.

Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati. He resides in Duluth, Ga. and is a columnist for The Highland County Press. He may be reached at

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