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How One Kid (and His Cat) Became Internet Sensations Last Week

How do you win at life? There’s no one right answer, but suggested strategies often include taking risks, maintaining a sense of humor, and favoring creativity over conformity.

How do you win at the Internet? Include all of the above and throw in a cat — at least, that’s what you might glean from the experiences of one smart-alecky teen in Schenectady, N.Y.

Whether he intended to or not, high school senior Draven Rodriguez became an Internet sensation after he went public with his efforts to use a very, er, special photo featuring himself and his cat, Mr. Bigglesworth, as his official senior portrait in his high school yearbook. His quixotic quest quickly drew headlines across the nation and beyond (hello, Australia!) and thousands flocked to support his cause through an online petition.

So how, at the tender age of 17, did Draven manage to accomplish web domination? There are some lessons in his experience that would-be memesters of any age might like to make note of:

1. Take advantage of Internet catnip.

The most obvious factor working in Draven’s favor was his choice of pet-turned-yearbook photo prop. Time and time again, the denizens of the web have proven their love of feline friends and Mr. Bigglesworth is clearly a welcome addition to the whiskery roster that includes Grumpy Cat and Keyboard Cat.

2. Exploit 80’s nostalgia.

Draven wasn’t even alive in the 1980s but he clearly appreciates the awesome aesthetic of laser backdrops that seemed to materialize in just about every student photo from the decade. He (or at least, his photographer, Vincent Giordano) tapped in to the Internet’s ongoing love affair with all things ’80s and it paid off big time.

3. Exploit high school nostalgia.

Whether you were a kid in the ’80s or not, you probably attended high school and had your own senior yearbook photo taken. Unlike Draven, yours was probably a more staid experience and that contrast makes Draven’s feline-flaunting feat even more fun to read about.

4. Question authority.

Who doesn’t like sticking it to The Man? Seeking to include a cat in a high school yearbook photo is probably one of the most benign attempts at rebellion in recorded history, and yet you can’t help rooting for this little shot across the bow at stodgy school rules and administrators who say they uphold them for the sake of “decorum.”

5. Include a call to action.

Draven enlisted others to support his chuckle-worthy cause by starting an online petition that he hoped would compel school officials to allow him to use his photo. He originally aimed to get 500 signatures but the total looks as though it will now exceed 7,000. Social media pros agree that finding a way to engage people — as opposed to just showing them stuff — is an excellent way to drive interest in what you’re doing … even if what you’re doing is admittedly “ridiculous.”

6. Monetize.

Draven smartly figured out that since he’s got all this attention, he might as well do something with it. He’s now selling T-shirts emblazoned with the photo that started it all, saying on his petition page that he’ll use the proceeds to pay for a car and college and would also share funds with his photographer.

Draven recently announced that he and school officials reached a compromise that will allow the photo to be included in the yearbook, just not in the senior section. But the fact that he’s falling a bit short of his original goal is now irrelevant. He initially told a local news station that he wanted, through the photo, to be remembered for his sense of humor.

Wherever his photo winds up in his yearbook, he’s already accomplished that, among not just his classmates but also many thousands of strangers, grateful for a purrfect laugh.

 

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