Embrace What Makes You Unique: Why we need more people like Draven Rodriguez & Graham Moore

Draven-Rodriguez-01_t300_b1-black                           stay weird

From Seriously Not Boring: “Embrace What Makes You Unique~ Why we need more people like Draven Rodriguez & Graham Moore” by Jennifer Roberts Bittner 

Embrace what makes you unique! I have long held tight to that sentiment. That is the heart of this website’s title, “Seriously Not Boring.” I LOVE people who are “different.” People who offer diverse and interesting experiences, personalities, and skills. People who live passionately, love deeply, and create freely. Who see things in this world that the rest of us miss. Who refuse to conform to the rigid standards imposed upon them by the expectations of society. People who realize that beauty and strength can be found in the midst of struggle and loss. People whose different abilities give them a unique perspective of the world around them. It makes the world such an interesting place!

I think that was why I liked Draven Rodriguez SO much, although I never told him. His glorious creation for his High School yearbook was inspiring. To me it was the epitome of “Be Yourself, Be Different.” For those of you who don’t know the story, he posed with his cat on a laser background in an effort to create an UNFORGETTABLE yearbook photo. He succeeded, and the internet went wild. Sadly, not everyone was kind. Some mocked his photo and wrote rude, cruel things about him. Others praised Draven and his bravery. The school ultimately declined to allow the photo in the student section, but the Principal offered a compromise. She and her chihuahua held a special photo shoot with Draven and his cat to help raise awareness for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the image was featured on her page.

I thought his whole experience was incredible, and was inspired by Draven’s tenacity and creativity. His picture not only created a stir, it also made a difference. Draven was also involved in anti-bullying campaigns. What we know of him shows an interesting, caring young man. He seemed like someone I would have liked to meet, someone I would have been friends with in high school. I was proud of him and didn’t even know him. I saw it as a victory for our people: the different ones. Draven knew that he had become an internet meme, but I wonder if he knew how many people, like me, he had truly inspired with his picture.

Months later the world learned the sad news that Draven had died of suicide. And I wept. A LOT. Several times. I wept for a boy I never knew but felt like I knew. I wept for the world because we had lost yet another unique, sensitive soul. And I wept with Draven for the pain that he faced. I wept for myself for the times that I felt alone and different. And I wept for my son, who has Asperger’s, for the moments he feels the same way. I wept out of fear that he will face the same cruelty as Draven, simply because he is different. My son is proud of his unique brain, as am I, but insensitive, intolerant treatment by others can turn pride into shame.

Aside from being mocked on the internet I don’t know what specific struggles Draven faced. I don’t know if his troubles came from without or from within. But I do know that the world is not always kind to those who are different. I also know that quite often those who are the most creative can feel the most conflicted inside. Whatever his struggles, I grieve for what he suffered, and I grieve for our loss. The world is less interesting without him in it. Please let me be clear: I do not celebrate how he died, but I celebrate how he lived prior to that.

After I learned of his death I spent the rest of the weekend with my heart hurting, thinking about all the children who feel mocked and isolated. Thinking about how cruel the world can be. Thinking about all those people who are afraid to show their true inner sleeves for fear of how others would react.

And THEN… Graham Moore. Oh my heavens what amazing timing. Just a day after we learned of the suicide of a boy who was “different”, this man stands on a stage to accept an ACADEMY AWARD and tells the world just what it needed to hear: “I tried to commit suicide at 16 and now I’m standing here,” he said. “I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she doesn’t fit in anywhere. You do. Stay weird. Stay different, and then when it’s your turn and you are standing on this stage please pass the same message along.” And I started crying again. Oh Draven, his words were for you!

I wish so much that Draven could have heard what Graham said. Maybe it could have helped to soothe his soul or heal his wounds a bit. But those words can still help others. I hope that every person who has felt alone will be inspired and emboldened by his message. Be your fantastic, quirky, decadent self. You are unequaled. You are glorious. And you matter.

Most of all I hope and pray that the WORLD will take heed of what he said. YOU HEAR ME, WORLD!?! DIFFERENT is AWESOME. So STOP the bullying. Stop the hatred. Stop the cruelty. Stop the mocking.

People look different. People act different. People think different. People walk different. People talk different. And it is all part of this fantastic mess that we call life. It would be SO boring without all of this beautiful diversity. We need to treat each other with respect and love. We need more people like Draven Rodriguez & Graham Moore to create things that get our attention. Thank you, Graham Moore, for your honesty and your bravery. Thank you for not deciding at the last minute to leave out that part of your speech. Thank you for being different and for encouraging the rest of us. And thank you to your 16-year-old self for deciding to live. I hope that every isolated, despondent child will find comfort in your words. And I hope that we can all find the strength to “Stay weird. Stay different.”

UPDATE 2/24/2015: Graham Moore gave an interview and discussed more about why he made the decision to share such personal information in his speech. He also goes into more detail about his battle with depression. It is definitely worth the read!

Click here to read a previous blog post about depression and suicide: Beauty & the Beast: Living with depression and bipolar disorder. “…the ability to feel so deeply, live life so intensely, can often come at a great price. Many other great artists also struggled with depression or mental illness. Van Gogh, my favorite painter, was one of them. His “Starry Night”  is a striking visual representation of a life spent caught between the darkness and the light. Many of those who can soar to the heights of emotions also know what it is like to inhabit the most remote depths of despair. One day everything is so stunningly bright and wonderful that you weep at the sheer beauty and intensity of it all. Then far too soon the clouds roll in and you wonder if you will ever see the light again.”

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7 thoughts on “Embrace What Makes You Unique: Why we need more people like Draven Rodriguez & Graham Moore

  1. Momof7yo February 24, 2015 / 3:14 PM

    This post is both heartbreaking and uplifting. Why is society so hard on kids who are different? Why can we not understand that it’s the differences that makes us better? Want life to be interesting, then you have to support the dreamers, the odd ducks, the artists and writers, the innovators, the quiet inventors.

    Our son is seen as an odd duck by his classmates and has always had a very hard time with peers. He suffered an emotional bully last year. We were proud of his resilience and determination not to be beated down. He has such a big heart, he even wanted to forgive his bully, saying (in his own words) “I don’t think he understands how much his words hurt other people.”

    As I mentioned in response to a prior post, we are in the process of having our son evaluated for Autism at the recommendation of his 2nd grade teacher. When I asked the principal what kinds of supports would be available if he were diagnosed with Autism, he responded “nothing.” Apparently, because our son has amazing math skills, and above average reading skills, he is considered “successful” in the classroom and no supports are needed. Never mind that his handwriting is nearly illegible, he has difficulty understanding social cues, he “spaces out” and doesn’t hear directions or homework instructions, or that he often gets sent to the principal’s office for emotional melt-downs.

    Last week I toured our local school, which has a gifted program. I told one of the 2nd grade teachers that our child sticks out like a sore thumb. Her response was “no worries, we have a LOT of thumbs here!” When I mentioned he was being autistic, she responded that their program attracts a lot of kids on the spectrum, so there are a ton of supports (including emotional/social supports and interventions), and that all of the teachers are trained to work with autistic children. We are going to move him last year – I think he would like swimming with the odd ducks.

    Like

    • Welcome back! I just updated the post to include a link to an interview Moore gave where he talked about his motivation for the speech and battles with depression. You might find it interesting.

      As far as your comment goes- WOW. I can relate to all of it. Twice-exceptional is a mystery to some educators. The system is not always capable of helping everyone succeed to the best of their ability, but more keep them from failing. We had quite a fight when re-evaluation occurred last year. My son had good grades because he is smart AND has supports. Because of the good grades they assumed he didn’t NEED the supports and one administrator tried to take them away. You should have seen the smoke come out of his dear teachers’ ears. Luckily we had a great team go to bat for us. NOT every school is like that, though. Sounds like the new school you saw would be a WONDERFUL fit for your son! Wish I could see it!

      As far as the bullies go, it is so hard to see our kids go through that. I am sorry yours had that experience, but it sounds like he has an amazing heart (and a loving mamma on his side). The best we can do is help educate those we can about the glories of being “different”, and surround ourselves with people who care.
      Good luck and best wishes!

      Like

  2. Full Spectrum Mama February 25, 2015 / 7:15 AM

    Beautiful, brave post.
    As someone who is different, with a son who’s different, I worry about this silently and inordinately…
    My best friend on earth, my cousin, killed herself when we were in out twenties. I wish she could have seen this speech. Crying too much to write more.
    Why IS the world so hard on individuals?

    Like

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