Participant Stories

John C Perrine

Moravia, NY

The path – or even the destination – that we each take in life is not always clear at the outset.  Since I was young, I felt that I had the potential, the drive, and the work ethic required to be successful.  I was not always so sure, however, what that success would look like or how I would achieve it.  In high school, my goal was to go to college and become a vocal music teacher.  I still think that I would have thrived in those roles, but I went in a different direction. 

Immediately after high school, I went to work at a local factory with the intention of saving some money so that I could enroll in college in the fall. I didn’t save very much, so I continued to work and postponed college until the next year. After a year of factory work, I did enroll using the little money I had saved and some money from a personal loan to pay the tuition. I was as a full time student at the local community college and found a full time job at a local restaurant. I completed one semester with only mediocre grades and then dropped out.

I returned to work at the local factory, and, while I did not have a clear plan, I was still determined to become successful. At the factory, I was offered the job of “Runner” in the product engineering department.  It was the lowest paid position in the department, but I took it. As the “Runner,” I was at the beck and call of the engineering management and the entire engineering staff.  I received requests as varied as getting the oil changed in the Chief Engineer’s car to getting prototype parts through various factories. I learned a lot about engineering and manufacturing, and I knew I could apply what I had learned. Forty years later, I retired from the only company I had ever worked for, as the manager of Engineering and Quality.

Most people would say that the world today is much more complex than it was 50 years ago. I’m not so sure of that. Yes, there is a never ending stream of technological change, but that has always been the case. I know, from having lived nearly seven decades, that mankind is quite capable of adapting to anything that comes along. I think that the most significant change is the degree of specialization in education and the work place. Medical doctors are specialists of individual organs or diseases, engineers are specialist in gear tooth shapes or x.  While these specialists are no doubt very good in their specialties, I worry that they lack the well-rounded education required for making sound and reasoned life-decisions. Just as I believed in high school, it is important to be successful in your work.  I know now, however, that it is also important to be a good friend, spouse, parent, and citizen.

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