Manitoba rocker Neil Young encouraged us to keep on rockin' in the free world, and his message was obviously heard loud and clear by Wayne Davies, the principal of École Selkirk Junior High School.
Davies started a program in 2009 that encouraged students to build custom guitars that would be autographed by stars and then auctioned off to support the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
"Our initial goal was to build three guitars and raise $1,000, but the teachers and students ran with the idea and to date, we have made more than 60 guitars and have raised $32,579," Davies said Tuesday at a luncheon to celebrate the group's efforts.
More than 30 students are actively involved in what's dubbed the Guitar Works B.O.S.S. (Building on Student Success).
Industrial arts teacher Kris Hancock and Grade 8 social studies teacher Scott Sampson have both been key to the program's success, Davies said. The teachers in turn are thrilled with the level of student involvement.
"They start with an actual guitar and dismantle it, then install all of the parts on a guitar body they build themselves out of wood," Hancock said.
"The finished product is a fully functional electric guitar."
Sampson, who is a part-time airbrush artist, helps the students paint the guitars, and when they are completed, they are autographed by the likes of Gordon Lightfoot, Alice Cooper and Blue Rodeo.
Although no academic credits are given to students for their participation in the program, each is able to build his or her own guitar from scratch near the end of the school year.
For Grade 8 student Logan Lamoureux, 13, building guitars is a dream come true.
"I really like heavy rock and want to learn to play the guitar," he said while showing off a custom six-string shaped like an axe that was signed by Gene Simmons of Kiss.
"We have been working on the guitars after school and at lunchtime and sometimes even before school. It has been really fun -- my friends are all into it and I've even made a few new friends."
On Tuesday, Gail Asper, who heads the museum's fundraising arm, announced $6 million has been raised in the last year, for a total of $136 million.
That leaves fundraisers about $14 million short of their goal, but they might need a little more.
The museum has run into cost overruns and the Manitoba and federal governments stepped in this summer with a loan and a loan guarantee. Asper said fundraisers may have to raise more money to pay interest on their provincially backed loan, depending on how quickly the last of the money is raised.
The government backing means the museum will open in 2014 regardless of how soon the remainder of the cash is raised, Asper said.
Tuesday's luncheon also served as a kickoff for a gala event on May 30 at the Selkirk Recreation Centre, where the latest crop of guitars will be auctioned off. The event started with 100 tables but Davies said 61 have already been sold.
For more information on the program or to purchase tickets for the May fundraiser, call Wayne Davies at 204-485-7159 or email firstname.lastname@example.org .
Stuart Murray, president and CEO of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, sees a future connection between the museum and students not just from Manitoba, but from around the world.
"Our vision is for the museum to be an extension of the classroom," said Murray, who noted the Rotary International student travel plan will offer students from around the world an opportunity to visit the museum's exhibits.