Guitar maker accompanies students to their goals

February 11, 2003

Guitar maker Paul Reed Smith visited Long Reach High School last week to speak about dreams and aspirations, and to autograph a guitar. Smith's factory, PRS Guitars Ltd. of Stevensville has donated an electric guitar to every school in Maryland.

In the audience were guitar and other music students, as well as students in the school's Career Research Development (CRD) courses, some of whom took time off from their jobs to attend the assembly.

"It's pretty much a student-run assembly," said Foster Driver, who teaches CRD courses at the school. "He puts out a chalkboard and says, `What would help you reach your goal?' They'll say, `You got to have desire, ambition. ... Then he'll say, `Well, what will stop you from reaching your goals?' And they say, `Drugs, [or] pretty much losing sight of your goals.'

"To have a career, you really have to like what you're doing," Driver said. "It's not money that you're chasing; it's your dream."

It was Smith's third visit to Long Reach. Before speaking at the school's graduation ceremony in June, he spent a day or two visiting with students and teachers "to find out the heart of the school. He really cares about them, and it was their day to shine," Driver said.

CRD courses are designed for students to help them explore educational and career possibilities. After discussing their aptitudes and interests, the students try their wings at a job. Some work as many as 40 hours a week.

"Most of the students that I teach aren't college-bound. They want to start a career as nurses, plumbers, electricians. ... I try to tell them if it's just to please your parents, don't go to college," Driver said. "The diploma itself is a worthless piece of paper; it's the knowledge behind it that puts the value in it."

Smith started his education at St. Mary's College. Now, in addition to running the guitar factory, he performs with Santana and other bands, Driver said. He met Smith 20 years ago, when one of his vo-tech students suggested that he hear Smith's band.

"Last year, I had a student named Michael Johnson [who played guitar] and he said, `If you can get Paul Reed Smith in here, I'll improve my grades,'" Driver said. "He was one of the students I call `Walking aimlessly through the desert.' He didn't want to go to college; he didn't know what he wanted to do."

So Driver called Smith and invited him to speak at Long Reach.

Johnson got his diploma and still plays guitar. He and Toby King, a guitar student who also graduated last year, have started a band, Sanantria, and made a compact disc.

"Smith likes to know if he has influenced students, and he has influenced a lot at the school," Driver said.

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