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.”
Like this post? Don’t forget to “Follow” Seriously Not Boring or subscribe to email updates (in the right sidebar on a desktop, scroll below the post on a mobile device). And you can check out our Facebook page and give us a “Like” there too. Thanks for stopping by!