A viral sensation now takes on a somber tone following the apparent suicide of Draven Rodriguez, the student behind the Laser Cat yearbook photo. Rodriguez was 17 and leaves behind a much larger impact on his community than just a silly yearbook photo. From Times Union:
Although his humor and intelligence were readily apparent, Rodriguez was more cherished by family and schoolmates for his easy facility for friendship.
“He made friends wherever he went,” said Rodriguez’s [step-father], Jonathan Stewart. “He had friends all over the country — people he’d met at youth-leadership conferences, online, just around town…
“He had an empathy for the world and for other people that I think is rare in kids his age,” said Stewart. “It was wonderful to see.”
The good news is that Rodriguez’s compromised photo with his principal will still see the pages of the yearbook despite this tragic loss. It doesn’t matter in terms of the actual photograph, but it does will serve as a nice tribute:
“He wasn’t trying to stir things up with it,” said Stewart. “He honestly just wanted a silly photo because he had a great sense of humor.” Working with Schenectady-based photographer Vincent Giordano, Rodriguez created an intentionally cheesy, laser-streaked portrait of himself holding Mr. Bigglesworth, a long, bushy stray cat who’d gotten into the family home and never left. Anticipating resistance from the school to his desire to have it included among the senior class’ formal portraits, Rodriguez posted the photo online to garner support. It blazed around the Internet and was mentioned by Jimmy Fallon in a “Tonight Show” monologue and by talk-show host Ellen Degeneres.
Citing school policy, Schenectady High’s principal, Diane Wilkinson, rejected it for the portraits section but participated in the making of a similar photo in which she posed with her rescue Chihuahua, Rodriguez, and he with Mr. Bigglesworth. It will get its own page in the yearbook with a message about the importance of adopting pets through shelters and rescue organizations. Stewart said Friday he believed the page still would be in the yearbook.
This is the kind of tragedy that’s hard to stomach. There’s any number of kids every year that make this decision before they’re out of high school and it never gets any easier.
He managed to turned a silly viral photograph around and make a positive contribution to his community. It’s not a horrible thing to be connected to something viral when it made people laugh and allowed you to connect with others outside of ayearbook. Rest in peace.
(The Times Union refers to Jonathan Stewart as Rodriguez’s father, but other sources note he is step-father. The quote has been edited to reflect this.)