Nathan Drake (Credit: Catherine Threlkeld)
Nathan Drake (Credit: Catherine Threlkeld)
A note hangs on a flower in the LSU Sculpture Garden in memory of Nathan Drake. (Credit: Catherine Threlkeld)
A note hangs on a flower in the LSU Sculpture Garden in memory of Nathan Drake. (Credit: Catherine Threlkeld)

By Catherine Threlkeld | LSU Student

Gone but far from forgotten at LSU.

LSU architecture and ceramics student Nathan Drake was only 21 years old when he died from cancer in March. Eight months later, he is embedded in the minds of many at the Baton Rouge campus.

On his birthday — November 27 — family, friends and teachers gathered in the LSU Sculpture Garden to write notes of remembrance to Drake. They attached mementos to flowers and hung them on fishing line from trees around the garden.

Some notes shared stories. Others wished him "happy birthday." Most were attached to sunflowers — his favorite flower.

The Sculpture Garden is nestled between the architecture school and the studio arts building, the two places where Drake split his time at LSU. A dual major in ceramic arts and architecture, he was a creator.

"Everything he did in architecture was amazing," said Austin Sandel, LSU architecture junior and Drake's former classmate.

Sandel said the architecture students would make lists about who would be accepted into the school's elite third-year group. Drake was always at the top of everyone's list.

"It was mind-boggling that he was in two majors that were time-demanding," Sandel said.

It wasn't just at LSU that Nathan showed his creativity. He and older brother Darren remodeled his parents' kitchen and bathroom at their home in Houston. When he was 8 years old, he wanted a bird and he built his own birdhouse out of recycled materials. He created a waterfall, pond and barbeque pit in their backyard. He distilled his own alcohol. Occasionally, he would cut his own hair.

"He was a modern-day Renaissance man," Sandel joked.

To top a talented mind, Drake had the personality to match. His former classmates called him "humble," an "encyclopedia" and a "beautiful soul."

Catherine Drake, Nathan's younger sister, said she, Nathan and Darren were home-schooled for several years. She did everything with her brothers, and they would protect her. In high school, they would take the same classes and sit together.

"We never really fought as kids like normal siblings do," Catherine Drake said.

His standout personality and talent brought dozens to the Sculpture Garden to share stories. His parents — Deborah and Ernie — drove from Houston to see the impact their son had on people.

"It was so very touching and comforting to do this especially on Nathan's birthday," Deborah said. "I don't know how they did it but they did it beautifully."

Those gathered remembered the whirlwind week that was Nathan's transformation from a seemingly fine student into an immobile man on life support.

Nathan had complained of back pain before, but nothing too serious, perhaps a result of bending over his ceramics and architecture projects. He checked himself into Our Lady of the Lake Hospital in Baton Rouge after experiencing intense pain. Doctors first diagnosed him with appendicitis.

A second diagnosis on March 11, and this one suggested something much worse — cancer. It had already metastasized throughout his body. He was transferred to Memorial Herman Hospital in Houston to be with his family. Five days after he walked into Our Lady of the Lake, he fell, hit his head and never woke up. Two days later, his family decided to remove life support.

Drake waited until 11:27 a.m., the same numbers as his birthday, to die.

"Nathan did things on his own terms," his mother said. "I mean how do you die like that? That was Nathan."