Draven Rodriguez, the good-humored Schenectady High School senior who gained notoriety in September of last year for his humorous yearbook photo with his pet cat, fell victim to an apparent suicide this week. Rodriguez was 17.
Writes Albany’s Times Union on Feb. 21: “Draven Rodriguez, a quick-witted senior at Schenectady High School who made national news last fall when a proposed yearbook portrait of him with his cat against a background of laser beams went viral online, died Thursday at home. The cause was suicide, his parents said.”
Draven’s yearbook photo saga gained national attention when he submitted his senior portrait showing him gripping his cat in front of lasers. The senior from upstate New York posed with his self-admitted “ridiculous” photo of himself and Mr. Bigglesworth over a very 80s backdrop of Star Wars-like laser cannon blasts.
Rodriguez started an online petition to convince his high school administrators to allow the silly photo. His first offering of the photo, taken by Vincent Giordano from Trinacria Photography, was quickly rejected by the school.
“I don’t want to go in the yearbook with the generic ‘I-look-like-everyone-else’ photo,” the teen said. “I wanted a ‘He looks great. Only he would try that’ kind of photo.”
So Draven ramped up an online petition, carried by ipetitions.com, that stated in part: “This is my photo that should be going into the yearbook, but we know how finicky the school systems can be. I’m hoping that with enough signatures, my school simply can’t turn this down,” and later, after he saw how many backers he had, Draven added: “I don’t want to even discuss the number of signs this has gotten. It’s nuts… The school and I have worked out a compromise we’re all happy with. It’ll be in there, just not in the senior section.”
The school, after seeing Draven’s 7,000+ votes, decided to add his photo to a specialized yearbook section that even included a photo of the school principal and her Chihuahua, along with a message in support of animal rescue.
Said Rodriguez of the school’s decision to include the photo: “I can work with that. I’m not trying to make any statement other than my photo is ridiculous and this is how I am.” Draven’s cat photo even got some mention by Jimmy Fallon in his “Tonight Show” monologue and by daytime talk-show host Ellen Degeneres.
“I really want to be remembered for who I was, a very vibrant, very intense personality you can say I have. I’m very humorous. I try to be very witty and I thought it would almost be a good statement, like, ‘Yeah, only Draven would really do that,’” Draven said last fall.
“He made friends wherever he went,” said Draven’s 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. It was wonderful to see.”
Draven’s family did not comment on what may have led to the teenager taking his own life. Some media outlets have indicated that Draven suffered from depression and suggested that he was relentlessly bullied for his senior photo. According to Yahoo News, the prevention of bullying served as a special cause to Draven. Over the last month, Draven was working with area kids on an anti-bullying project.
Rodriguez is survived by his mother, his father, his 11-year-old sister and a stepfather, reports NewsDay.
Of the photo, Stewart said: “He wasn’t trying to stir things up with it. He honestly just wanted a silly photo because he had a great sense of humor.”
What do you think may have led to Draven Rodriguez’s suicide?