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Veterans display gets overhaul: Teen on own gains a new perspective from senior project

Grangeville High School senior Steve Bruce recently completed a renovation of the veterans display case at GHS as part of his senior project.

Photo by Lorie Palmer
Grangeville High School senior Steve Bruce recently completed a renovation of the veterans display case at GHS as part of his senior project.


GRANGEVILLE – For Grangeville High School student Steve Bruce, the lessons of a senior project seemed a bit redundant for him.

“I understand the process is meant to teach students about responsibility and perseverance, the ability to get things completed without mommy and daddy watching over you,” he said. “But, I already know that. I got that.”

At 17, Bruce lives on his own and supports himself with a full-time job at Rocky Mountain Pellet Company. He also attends school full-time.

“I moved around a lot, I didn’t always get along with my mom and I didn’t meet my biological dad until later on,” he said. “I was a silent kid – observing.”

What he observed, he said, was a life of moving from place to place and, unfortunately, a lot of drug use, as well as violence and even homelessness.

“Everyone has a choice,” he said. “I have seen what that lifestyle and what drugs can do. I choose not to take that path. Of course, I have made mistakes. What teen hasn’t? But I have learned and I know what it takes to survive.”

And because he wanted to be the first in his family to graduate, he knew he had to complete the senior project.

“Mr. Willig suggested the veterans display case – it could use updating,” Bruce said. “So I decided to go for it.”

Bruce wrote his preparation paper and made plans, then spent hours removing the case that holds photos of alumni who have served in the military or are currently serving, and began to take it apart. The hodge-podge colors of mismatched wood became one as he sanded and varnished the case.

In addition to this, Bruce, with the help of Mr. Wassmuth, used the SolidWorks software program and designed lettering which he had cut into steel pieces at Gem Chain/AquaJet. He painstakingly painted the lettering, which reads “GHS alumni serving our country,” on wooden backgrounds and mounted these above the display case.

“It took hours to paint the red inside the letters,” he pointed out. “I am really happy with how it turned out.”

Aside from the satisfaction of a job well done, Bruce said, came another feeling. One of leaving something of himself behind in a place he calls home.

“GHS has been a good place,” he said. “Mr. Willig really showed me that you have to put something in if you want to get something back. Mr. Higgins has been supportive. I have friends. Life isn’t easy, but that’s OK.”

Bruce said even though the display case has been around for years, it had blended into the woodwork, so to speak.

“Now people are noticing it,” he said. “I look at it like I look at myself – at one time no one noticed me until I got some new clothes. This display cabinet just needed some improvements to help it get noticed.”

And though the project didn’t teach Bruce about the motivation, perseverance or dedication he feels he already possesses, it did teach him something else: A different perspective.

“If you stand in one spot too long, you start to squint – you have to move around and stand back to get a better view, a different perspective on things,” he said. “I may not have wanted to do the senior project because I didn’t feel it could teach me something I didn’t already know, but I actually did learn from it.”

The case will have even more significance to Bruce as his photo will one day appear inside of it. He ships out to basic training for the National Guard 10 days after graduation. At Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., he plans to train in heavy equipment operations.

As for his relationship with his family now, he said it’s been better since he has been on his own and has become more responsible and focused.

“I’m different than most of the kids here [at GHS] because of the life I have had,” he said. “But, like I said, I do feel it’s home. GHS may be small, but it’s mighty.”


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