Student known for yearbook photo with cat, lasers kill herself

Schenectady, NY (Times Union) – Draven Rodriguez, a quick-witted senior at Schenectady High School who made national news last fall when a yearbook portrait of him with his cat against the backdrop of laser beams went viral online, is died Thursday at home. He was 17 years old. The cause was suicide, his parents said.

Although his humor and intelligence were evident, Rodriguez was more appreciated by his family and classmates for his ease of friendship.

“He made friends everywhere he went,” Rodriguez’s father Jonathan Stewart said. “He had friends all over the country – people he had met at youth leadership conferences, online, right in town.”

Among these was Reza Zand, co-owner of the Schenectady Persian Bite restaurant, which Rodriguez frequented partly for food and partly to talk to Zand and his brother, Arousol, whose stories of emigrants from Iran intrigued him. .

In a January 29 Facebook post, Rodriguez quoted Reza Zand as saying, “We are all human beings and we should help each other,” then commented, “It was simple, but really powerful. one of my favorite people. in all of Schenectady. “

“He had an empathy for the world and for other people which I think is rare in children his age,” said Stewart. “It was wonderful to see.”

Born October 6, 1997 at Bellevue Hospital in Niskayuna, Rodriguez experienced his rebellious phase very early on: at 9, he wanted to dye his hair green, which his parents allowed him as long as he reported excellent notes. He kept his locks green until he didn’t like them anymore, and in college his dark hair sported a short, preppy cut.

Rodriguez had omnivorous interests – learning the guitar himself, learning words from a Russian-English dictionary, a rowing team, making smoked ribs and other barbecue dishes with Stewart, computers – and most. were characterized by a steadfast determination to achieve what he set out to do. to do. Which partly explains his briefly famous photo of the cat and the lasers.

“He wasn’t trying to shake things up with it,” said Stewart. “Honestly, he 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 portrait of himself holding Mr. Bigglesworth, a long, bushy stray cat who entered the family home and never left.

Anticipating the school’s resistance to their desire to include her among the formal portraits of the senior class, Rodriguez posted the photo online to garner support. It has been 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 principal Diane Wilkinson rejected her for the portraits section but was instrumental in making a similar photo in which she posed with her rescue Chihuahua, Rodriguez, and him with Mr. Bigglesworth.

He’ll get his own page in the directory with a message about the importance of adopting pets from shelters and rescue organizations. Stewart said on Friday he believed the page would still be in the directory.

Rodriguez’s Facebook posts ranged from reflections on global affairs to wrestling with the lid of a pot of peanut butter to his latest guitar endeavors, all delivered with proper spelling and punctuation, including proper deployment of hyphens that was atypical for someone his age.

“He was a grammar Nazi,” Stewart said with a laugh. “He always found errors on the signs, the menus -” Look, they don’t use the apostrophe correctly! “He liked the English language.”

In middle school, Rodriguez would correct an English teacher’s mistakes so often that when an observer came to class for the day, she would ask him to abstain, at least verbally.

According to Stewart, the teacher told Rodriguez, “Please don’t say anything during class. If you want, you can write down the errors and show them to me afterwards. ” He did.

Rodriguez is survived by Stewart; his mother, Melissa Petersen-Stewart; her 11-year-old sister, Lily Stewart; his biological father, Erik Rodriguez;

Rodriguez’s wife, Amy; and many other family members.

Calling hours are 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at New Comer Funeral Home, 343 New Karner Road, Colony. Friday funerals will be private.

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