My freshman year of college involved many rituals. I would wake up, throw on my sweatshirt and yoga pants, walk to the coffee shop on campus, and head off to class trying desperately to wake myself up. Sitting at my desk waiting for my lecture to begin, I would open my laptop and ready myself for a thrilling hour of note taking.
I logged onto Blackboard to follow along with the notes, opened a Word doc to make my own annotations, and eventually I’d give up on it all and log onto Reddit. My Anthropology teacher’s lecture about Papua New Guinea was putting me to sleep, the coffee hadn’t kicked in, so I had to turn to the internet to stimulate my mind.
Five years ago if you regularly visited Reddit or Imgur, you’d see all the classic memes. Some of my favourites were Scumbag Steve, Good Guy Greg, and, of course, Success Kid. Whenever someone online experienced a victory, big or small, Success Kid was always a great way to celebrate.
Though the meme is loved globally, few actually know the story behind it. Sam Griner, or Sammy, is the face of the meme. A baby photo of Sammy clenching his fist at the beach became a viral sensation completely by accident. Eight years later a lot has changed. Sammy is all grown up with some very cool hair, his very first cell phone, and hobbies other than playing with sand.
That’s not all – the meme even saved Sam’s father’s life. The notoriety of Success Kid was able to raise the $75,000 for a kidney transplant and years of subsequent medication. I was able to find out more about the opulent life of a meme star after interviewing Sammy and his mom, Laney. The incredibly kind and hilarious pair answered some questions about their journey to internet stardom.
You can check out what they had to say on the next page.
1. Sammy, do your friends know you’re famous?
“Yes. [After realizing] it’ll take them a minute to believe it, and then they really can’t believe it!”
2. What has been Success Kid’s biggest success?
“Saving my dad was really, really, really exciting. He could have died! But now, he’s up and running.”
3. Any idea what made you give that “successful” reaction in the infamous picture?
“My mom took the picture, and that’s really all I know.”
4. Do you have a favorite meme other than your own? Why?
“Doge and Grumpy Cat. I like animals.”
Find out more about Sam’s effort to save his father’s life by clicking on to the next page.
5. Despite being much older now, does anyone recognize you? (If so, do they make you do your signature pose?)
“No. But once anyone finds out it’s me, they always want the pose. Then they take a picture, ask for my autograph… (embarrassed giggling) the pose… I like it but sometimes I feel weird to do it.”
6. Tell me a little bit about your new hair color. What inspired the new hairdo?
“Well, I did it because of a YouTuber I watch has blue hair and I liked it. But also about awareness of diseases.”
7. I’ve read all about the GoFundMe started for your dad, and how it saved his life. What was your reaction to all of the strangers online to eager to help you?
“So much thankfullness comes to me. I feel so happy! And to everybody out there I say thank you! I just want to thank anyone who wants to help my dad, because that is so… it’s just really so awesome!”
You’ll be surprised at Laney’s reaction when the meme first emerged. Check it out on the next page.
8. Laney, I know you struggled with the decision to bring “Success Kid” into raising money. Clearly, I’m glad you ended up doing it and it worked. What made you decide to include the meme stardom?
“I wanted the focus to be on my husband, Justin. I felt that the time and place didn’t call for the light-hearted fun and silliness often associated with SK memes. I also didn’t want to appear to be exploiting our internet luck by seeming to say that we somehow deserved more help than others who were fundraising simply because our son has a well-known image.
“I created the GoFundMe campaign on April 8, 2015. A few days later, I had an idea to post about it on Twitter and Instagram, as well, where I’m primarily followed by Success Kid fans.
“That totally changed the direction of the campaign. We had an unheard of second wave of viral “fame” with our fundraising story being shared all over social media. In the few weeks following that Twitter post, we participated in dozens of interviews for publications all over the globe, helping spread our story all over the world, which helped us to meet and far surpass our monetary goal (which I’d set high to begin with, assuming we’d never reach it), all through the selfless kindness of strangers, friends, and family.
“Recalling it all now, it’s still so hard to believe. We feel so incredibly fortunate.”
9. How did you feel about tons of strangers online coming together to help your family?
“I was, and am still, blown away by the gratitude of almost five thousand people, the vast majority strangers to us, determined to help my family through our battle over kidney disease, donating whatever they could to help us. Some giving $5, others giving hundreds, all doing what they can to help. It’s an astounding, and unbelievably positive story for an internet so accustomed to negativity.
“After a few days of overwhelming positivity and the seemingly unending selfless support we were experiencing, I posted this tweet, which I stand behind completely!”
10. How has life changed since the meme took off?
“Life has changed a great deal because of my photo’s popularity in some ways, but for the most part, life goes on every day quite normally. We’re fortunate to be asked to do interviews, such as this one, which help keep Success Kid popular. We’ve been guests/panelists at a comic book convention, internet celebrity convention, and at South X Southwest. Sammy’s photo has appeared in ads for Virgin (UK), Vitamin Water, Honey Bunches of Oats cereal (US), and a Coca-Cola commercial during the Super Bowl in the US.
“Other than ads and interviews, Sam is a normal 10-year-old (as of September 23) boy, in the fourth grade (currently homeschooled), with chores and responsibilities, hobbies and interests. We’re a very close, small family, spending lots of time together. Sam is a great kid, smart and talented, with a huge heart.
11. How did you realize that your picture became famous? What was your reaction?
“It’s hard to remember where I first saw it, but I do know that it was the “I Hate Sandcastles” version (photo), June 7, 2008.”
“I know the exact date thanks to a Facebook comment that I posted the same day I discovered it, and this how I felt about it:
“I realized I had no control over my photo, and that was unsettling, to say the least. Seeing my baby portrayed as a bully really upset me, too. He was just 2 years old at the time and I didn’t care for this manipulated version being out there.
“However, soon after that I began seeing the cropped “Success Kid” version, and I couldn’t help but love it. Such a positive meme, and with my sweet boy… that totally changed my perspective of the photo being taken from my page.
12. Sammy, people are interested in knowing more about you. Can you give us 3 fun facts about yourself?
“I like drawing, I like beatboxing, and I love my dogs, especially Oscar! (our French bulldog puppy, a gift to Sammy after the fundraiser) He is my favorite thing in the world!”
It just goes to show that even memes have incredible stories. Not only is Sam and his family absolutely as cool as can be – they turned a weird situation into an incredible cause. Does everything happen for a reason? Maybe. For me, Success Kid helped get me through my uneventful Anthropology classes. For Sam, his dad is alive and kicking. Whoever said memes are dumb can eat their words.