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High school senior builds guitar out of wood, dreams of rocking out on the big stage

<i>Roosevelt Oliver
Roosevelt Oliver

By Taneisha Cordell

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    STOW, Ohio (WEWS) — The heavy rock chords AJ Garduño strums almost daily with ease have become the soundtrack of his life.

“It’s very loud, very aggressive,” he said. “It sounds fantastic.”

The Stow-Monroe Falls High School senior was diagnosed with autism at three years old, which he says helped him discover several passions.

“Obviously I’m not much of a social person, even though I love people, but being on the spectrum I have hyperfocus and all that good stuff,” Garduño said. “I have multiple interests. Not only do I have interest in music, I also like electrical engineering. Like photography, videography, astronomy, snakes, trains, a bunch of stuff.”

But as Garduño shared, music “made me feel open and free like I could do whatever I want. I could rule the world.” His passion for singing and a gifted guitar from his elementary school bus aide forged inspired his self-teaching on how to play.

“Once I picked it up, I never put it down,” he said. “This is what I want to do, and I want to succeed with it.”

Music meets woodworking

As Garduño explained his curiosity for learning and experimenting has been rewarding.

“I just want to build new things and keep having fun.”

That mentality is what led him to enroll in his school’s woodworking class freshman year and now, again as a senior. Garrett Mattes, a Stow-Monroe Falls High School Woodwork and Tech teacher, says his classes allow students to take control and manage their project of choice for the semester after learning basic craft and safety skills.

“We go over all the things that you’re going to need to know and understand,” Mattes said. “They just go and follow their plan all the way and obviously I’m there to assist them and help them in any way I can. You have to be self-paced, self-motivated.”

To stay true to his passion for music, Garduño chose to build his own electric guitar from scratch. He completed it in just five weeks.

“That actually started out as a piece of cardboard and that cardboard became a piece of plywood and then I traced that out into the template…and it became that.”

While the popular elective class isn’t what Garduño originally expected, it’s one he and the 200-plus students who enroll in the class yearly, walk away proud of.

“They’ll learn so many things along the way even when they don’t even realize they’re learning,” Mattes said. “It’s one of those subjects that is very I guess exploratory so you can find your path.”

Though the arts and trade electives like woodwork are a luxury in some public schools due to funding, Garduño encourages more students to take advantage. The opportunity and outlet have helped him express himself and appease his hyperfocus superpower now, as a woodworking rockstar.

“It’s very inspirational to be able to learn what you can do and how well you can do it.”

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