Not many high school seniors can say they’ve been honored for “achievement in cat excellence.”
Draven Rodriguez could very well be the first.
Rodriguez, the Schenectady High School senior whose so-called laser cat yearbook photo went viral last month, was honored Tuesday night in front of an audience of cat lovers at Spectrum 8 Theatres for the First (and Probably Last) Capital Region Feline Film & Video Festival for Humans.
Rodriguez received one of three awards during the 105-minute showing of homemade cat videos: The Right Here, Right Meow Award for Current Achievement in Cat Excellence. The award came with a trophy of sorts: a glittery, gold-colored kitty litter scooper.
“Even though we’re cat lovers, we’re news hounds, and we couldn’t help but want to salute a local hero,” said Mike Keegan, an Albany native now living in San Francisco who founded the traveling festival with Jay Wertzler, also of San Francisco.
As he arrived at the theater with his mother and younger sister, Rodriguez, wearing a button-down shirt and polka-dot tie, said he was excited to accept the award in front of local cat lovers.
“I try to have a big sense of community, so doing things that are locally based means a lot to me,” said Rodriguez, who turned 17 Monday.
Rodriguez’s mother, Melissa Petersen, said she was proud of her son, who made international headlines online last month when he petitioned to have a picture of him holding his cat over a backdrop of lasers in the yearbook. While school officials did not allow the image to run alongside other students’ yearbook photos, Schenectady High School Principal Diane Wilkinson agreed to a compromise and posed with her dog, Rodriguez and his cat over a backdrop of lasers. The photo will have a special spot in the yearbook on the principal’s page, along with a message advocating for animal rescue and adoption.
“He stood up for what he believed in, he was willing to compromise and he was always a gentleman and very respectful with everything,” Petersen said. “I think he handled everything with the school in the right way. He never meant for it to blow up like this — it was just supposed to be a fun senior picture. That was it.”
“It’s been crazy,” she added. “Tonight’s pretty entertaining.”
His sister, Lily Stewart, 10, had one word to describe it all: “Awesome.”
Wertzler said it was nice to see the school embrace Rodriguez’s creativity and find a positive solution.
“When I was graduating high school everybody wanted to do crazy things with their portraits, but they were also like, you know, things that you would regret later,” the 29-year-old said. “I don’t think there will be any regrets for this.”
Rodriguez said his cat, Mr. Bigglesworth, couldn’t attend Tuesday because he’s not used to being around crowds of people.
“He’s used to being home,” he said.
But Rodriguez made sure to thank his feline friend for the role he played.
“It’s big,” he said of receiving the award. “It’s because of my cat, so I have to give credit where credit is due.”
It’s just as well that Mr. Bigglesworth stayed home — Keegan is allergic to cats, as were some members of the sold-out audience of 186.
Keegan said he started the touring festival because he wanted to share his coping mechanism — loving cats through the magic of cinema — with others who were allergic.
Before the marathon of cat videos got started with footage of two cats boxing, Keegan asked the audience if anyone else shared his cat allergy. Several raised their hands.
“We know that no one brought a cat in because we’d be very itchy right now,” he said as one human meowed.