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Seven Useful Things I Learned in High School

Updated on July 27, 2015

Reflections on lessons learned at Hunterdon Central High School

You may have heard teenagers as well as parents say that high school is a waste of time. That the material taught is useless in the real world. Well, I heartily disagree! I'm here to tell you that there are many lessons to be learned in high school, but sometimes we don't appreciate their value until years later. This year is my 50th High School Reunion, and a time of reflection on my years at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, New Jersey. It's time to recognize the valuable lessons we were taught by excellent teachers!


First Day at Hunterdon Central High School

I still remember my first day at Hunterdon Central High School. Girls were expected to wear dresses to high school in the 1950s and the first day of school was always an occasion for a new dress. My mother, who was an excellent seamstress, made most of my clothes. For this special first day she made me a red plaid shirtwaist with a really full skirt that I wore with a starched crinoline. Girl's school clothes, especially high school girls' clothes, were not designed for comfort. In the humid New Jersey air, that starched crinoline would would stick to me every time I sat down. The new flats that I wore without stockings would give me blisters by the end of the day. But, with my new "Italian cut" haircut, I thought I did look a little like the popular Mousekateer, Annette Funicello (my friends said I did!), and the perfect fashionable high schooler.

My family drove a 1956 Chevy like this

1956 Chevy
1956 Chevy

Riding the school bus with my future husband

It was scary and exciting to get on the high school bus with the "big kids" and be carted off to the huge, new consolidated school in Flemington, New Jersey, Hunterdon Central Regional High School. Getting on the school bus, I could feel the older kids looking at me, especially the big senior football players in the back of the bus. Little did I dream that one of those intimidating football players would become my husband a few years later and would remain so for 50 years!

I self-consciously settled into a seat next to my friend Anita. We were both excited and really happy to have several classes together. It was going to be so much fun!

High School Years: 1956–1960

In the four years that followed, it seemed that life was full of useless education. How would my hated history class ever help me? And, except for the fun of exercising my brain, did real life require algebra or Spanish or Shakespeare?

O.K., so physics, history, biology and trigonometry were mostly wasted on me at that point in my life. The main thing I learned in trig class was that yawning is contagious as one of the cute boys sitting near me would deliberately yawn to get the class started on a yawning spree.

Dissecting frogs was not nearly as much fun as I thought it would be, and I REALLY came to hate the formula for photosynthesis! I hated it even more in college. How come I still can't remember it and couldn't care less?

Physical Education was the most dreaded experience every week. Girls were required to shower in the group showers and, wearing only a towel, parade in front of the gym teacher's desk to have her name checked off. How I wished I were like Diane and Dorothy, identical twins who took turns going through the shower twice so that they both didn't have to shower! I didn't mind taking a shower, but being really modest and shy, this was an excruciating experience that I never got used to.

I was also terrible at sports, so the medicine ball usually plunked on the wrong side of the net, field hockey never made a bit of sense to me and, at 5' tall, basketball was a disaster. The best time of my high school career was my senior year when it seemed to snow enough every Thursday so that we had either a snow day or early dismissal -- and NO PHYS ED! Yeah!

What About Your High School Years?

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Accomplished Classmates

Many of my classmates went on to become successful business men and women, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and professionals in many other fields. Here are a few who went on to become writers whose books are featured on Amazon:

Books by My Classmates of HCHS

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Seven Lessons I Learned in Hunterdon Central High School

As it turned out, I did use many of the lessons I learned in high school in my real life. Here are 7 lessons I learned in high school that I still use 50 years later:

  1. Logic. My class was so lucky to have Mrs. Dorothy Zuegner as a math teacher throughout high school. Her energy and enjoyment of math made even the most difficult concepts seem easy and fun. I don't remember the formulas for calculating the areas of triangles or circles, but the logical thinking that she taught has shaped my way of looking at problems ever since her geometry class.
  2. Algebraic equations. I'm far from being a mathematician, but 23 years after my high school graduation, I worked on my first computer, and guess what? Knowing how to write an algebraic equation enabled me to design intricate spreadsheets with all the bells and whistles of charts and graphics. Thanks, Mrs. Zuegner!
  3. Spanish. Hola! Who would ever have guessed that the Spanish classes that I took in high school would prepare me for the new millennium? We not only welcomed two Hispanic daughters-in-law into the family, but now spend winters in Arizona or Texas where the Hispanic population is more than 30% and visit Mexico frequently. I can actually read some of the signs and billboards. And I sometimes surprise my Hispanic daughters--in-law by understanding what they are saying to each other in Spanish!
  4. Writing and grammar. One very special teacher in my high school years was Mrs. Godley, my Freshman English teacher. She demanded excellence in writing, and she was my conscience every time I wrote a letter or a business memo or a newsletter. Years later, I imagine Mrs. Godley looking over my shoulder and marking my writing on HubPages in imaginary red ink!
  5. Life Lessons. I can't say that wading through Romeo and Juliet or Great Expectations was exactly a life changing experience, but being in Mr. Claude Schmitt's English class was more like being in a Philosophy of Life class. He helped us look at life, friendship and relationships in an adult way that was to influence me for the rest of my life.
  6. Typing. Some practical lessons I learned in high school constantly pop up in my daily life. I don't often think about how I gained certain skills. But when I do think about it, I know that I should give credit to the typing teacher who forced us to learn touch typing on those old, clackety manual typewriters. I can still hear the loud chatter of keys and the clunk of the return carriage as we practiced and took timed tests. My top speed was 40 words a minute, and I was exceedingly proud of the accomplishment. I used those skills though my life, first to write letters on my little Royal portable, then to type on my first 128K Apple Macintosh, later to type memos, letters and daily work at my job. Retired now, I happily chitter away on my new little Mac iBook. Miss whoever-it-was would be disappointed to know that I still have to look at the keyboard when typing numbers, though. Sorry!
  7. How to Make Gravy. You'll laugh at another one of my practical skills, one I learned in Home Economics. Miss Duane, the Home Ec teacher, must have aged before her time trying to teach a bunch of restless teenagers anything useful, but in the cooking segment of our class, I finally did learn how to make cream sauce. Ahhh... you don't think that's a valuable life-skill? By using her technique, I can make a velvet smooth cream sauce and beautiful, lump free gravy EVERY TIME. I'll never make another pleated skirt, but I sure can make gravy!

Life Lessons from High School

I think we all learned some lessons in high school that had nothing to do with teachers or classes. Those high school years were the time when we learned about friendship and the importance of keeping confidences; about flirting and the joys and pain of boy/girl relationships; about cutting the apron strings and making mistakes. It was the 1950s, remember, and, at 14 or 15 most girls didn't know much about dating or sex. At pajama parties Betty Jane and Marie and I talked about boys, but seldom dared to speculate about sex... and then we were pretty sure our parents had never done it!

Oh gosh, I remember my first job as a Tray Girl at the Hunterdon Medical Center, the first boyfriend to carry my books, the Sock Hop and some of those starched hair styles! After the first dance in my Freshman year, I was so excited that I couldn't sleep all night after I got home. Ricky Nelson and Elvis Presley, Perry Como and Fats Domino played in my head, and the excitement of actually dancing with a boy– it was all too much! Am I the only one who still plays those old 1950s songs?

Oh, before I close, there is one other thing from high school that has served me well-- Miss O'Connor's Latin class! So, o.k., I don't really remember much Latin, but the background sure helps me out in Scrabble– and I can still (sometimes) beat my college age grandchildren at the game! Thanks, Miss O'Connor, Mrs. Godley, Mrs. Zuegner, Mr. Schmidt and other great teachers--you did well!


Copyright ©2010 Stephanie Henkel


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