Remembering Christopher “Drew” Leinonen

Remembering Christopher Andrew “Drew” Leinonen, ’07, ’09
Alumnus of the University of Central Florida
B.A. in psychology in 2007
M.S. in clinical psychology in 2009

Christopher Leinonen Graduation

UCF College of Sciences
UCF Psychology Department
UCF Classmates & Friends

On June 12, Orlando was attacked. This is a tragedy for the University of Central Florida, Orlando, and the nation. Our hearts go out to all the victims and their families.

UCF alumnus Christopher Andrew Leinonen, called Drew by his friends, was a victim of this hateful act. Drew graduated from UCF with a B.A. in psychology in 2007 and a M.S. in clinical psychology in 2009.

Drew was an advocate of support and respect. He started his own chapter of the Gay Straight Alliance at his high school in an effort to promote an open and supportive environment. He worked as a licensed mental health counselor to support those in need.

Jeffrey Cassisi, Ph.D., Chair of the UCF Psychology Department, immediately recognized Drew’s supportive nature while he was a student.

“Drew was in the program when I first started at the UCF Daytona regional campus,” explained Dr. Cassisi. “He welcomed me with such openness and support. He was such a happy, low key, and good student.”

Drew made a lasting impact on all those he worked with in the UCF Psychology Department.

“I remember Drew very well as a kind and caring individual, soft spoken, bright and intuitive, and well loved by his classmates,” said Steven L. Berman, Ph.D., UCF Psychology associate professor.

Drew and Jendrisak

Drew and roommate Katie Jendrisak

Fellow classmate Katie Jendrisak, ’10, met Drew while they both were pursuing master’s degrees in the Clinical Psychology program at UCF.

“I could write a book about all of the wonderful things that describe my dear friend Drew,” said Jendrisak. “His laughter and quirky sense of humor were instantly contagious.”

As classmates and roommates, Jendrisak and Drew grew to be close friends, living through love, heart break and what Jendrisak described as downright shenanigans.

“When you’re having the worst of days he would remind you just how beautiful you are as a person,” said Jendrisak. “I’ll never forget our late night talks and poolside barbecues, pet sitting and putting up Christmas trees in July.”

Another classmate of Drew’s, Kristel Valdelamar, ’07, ’09, met him while interviewing for the Clinical Psychology master’s program at UCF and explained they clicked right away. Valdelamar remembers countless car rides with Drew filled with singing and laughter. She said he never failed to bring the class together with his upbeat attitude.

“Drew’s soul is energetic, hilarious, smart, sassy, witty, and not to be reckoned with. I am happy I got to know him and spend time with him,” said Valdelamar. “I feel even luckier that I got to call him a friend.”

Drew influenced all those around him with his positive attitude. UCF psychology lecturer, Margaret Kennerley, worked closely with Drew and will always remember him by the incredible passion he maintained.

Drew and classmates

Drew and his classmates in the UCF Psychology Department

“Drew was a very open, optimistic and happy person. He welcomed everyone he met with open arms and accepted everyone for who they were,” said Kennerley.

Kennerley described Drew as a highly motivated student who bonded easily with his classmates and was truly a delight to have in class.

Drew desired to be of help to the LGBTQ community. This desire drove him to do well in school and shone a bright light through Drew that had a lasting impact on those around him.

“He attributed his openness and pride in his gay identity to his mother’s life long support of him,” explained Kennerley. “He wanted others to experience the freedom to be who they are. The freedom he was given by his mother.”

Drew was a strong supporter of gay rights and never faltered in his belief that gay marriage would become legal during his lifetime.

“Well, he got to see that happen, but he lost his freedom before he was able to marry his boyfriend. I am completely heartbroken by his death,” said Kennerley.

The acceptance and love that Drew stood for was evident at his memorial service. A combined service was held for Drew and his boyfriend, Juan Ramon Guerrero, a UCF pre-finance student who was also killed in the attack.

Anti-gay protesters stood outside of the packed church full of grieving friends, family, and supporters. Hate did not win, however, as the vile protestations were met not with anger, but with chorus after chorus of “Amazing Grace” as sung by 500 individuals determined to make sure that love would win.

Individuals wearing large angel wings lined side-by-side in front of the protesters to create a barrier between them and those entering the church. This example of conquering hate with love and respect is what Drew represented.

Amazing Grace Angels

Photo courtesy of John Raoux / AP

“The ‘angels’ completely blocked the sight and sound of the protesters,” explained Kennerley. “We could only hear voices singing Amazing Grace. It was an experience that I will never forget.”

These past few weeks have been extremely hard for so many suffering from the death of loved ones.

“The day we lost Drew, for me, it felt like the day the sky came down,” said Jendrisak. “When anger and sadness start to consume my heart, I ask myself ‘What would Drew do if he were here right now?’  He would squeeze me in one of his big hugs, with his clenched teeth smiling from ear to ear, and say something absolutely random and yet it would make perfect sense to turn it all around.”

Like Jendrisak, many of Drew’s loved ones hold on to their love and memories of him, and embrace his positivity and passion close to their hearts.

“He will live on and will continue to touch the lives of many,” said Jendrisak. “I thank the stars that I was lucky enough to have him touch and forever change mine.”

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