It wasn't what Respiratory Therapist Robertino Rodriguez thought would happen when he first plastered a reassuring photograph of his smiley self onto his full-body protective hospital suit.
But that small act of kindness, meant to ease the minds of his rightfully-worried hospital patients, has turned into a global effort that has garnered major attention from the likes of Colgate, Gov. Gavin Newsom and, most recently, the publishers behind the Dr. Seuss books.
Rodriguez, who works at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego, softened hearts across the globe when he shared a photo of himself, covered head-to-toe in personal protective equipment (PPE), with a smile not on his face, but on his chest.
"A reassuring smile makes a big difference to a scared patient," the caption of his post read. "So today I made a giant laminated badge for my PPE. So my patients can see a reassuring and comforting smile."
The post went viral and now his Instagram feed is filled with other health care personnel, inspired by Rodriguez, sharing their own smiles.
"When I started it, it was just for my patients. It was me doing it for them. I wasn't doing anything big. It was just my own thing for them," he said.
The gesture has led to unanticipated recognition but what happened this week was the biggest honor to Rodriguez so far, he says.
Rodriguez was selected to be a virtual commencement keynote speaker for Dr. Seuss Enterprises' Oh the Places You'll Go Virtual Graduation Celebration. The campaign called on a select few, like WWE superstar John Cena and astronaut John Kelly, to honor 2020 graduates with virtual speeches and readings from the inspirational Dr. Seuss book.
"I really feel just wonderful and so honored because they picked celebrities that are known," Rodriguez said. "I'm just a normal guy. To be picked by them, it means a lot."
In his commencement speech, which can be viewed on Dr. Seuss' Facebook Page, Rodriguez read the opening passage of "Oh, The Places You'll Go" and shared a message to never be deterred.
"Don't think that there's a certain time table that everyone's supposed to follow to get to where you're supposed to be," he said. "Everybody gets to their destination at different times in their lives."
He ended the speech on an uplifting note, by encouraging graduates to leave their own "positive impact in our world."
You'd never be able to tell from talking with Rodriguez that he's been separated from his family since the onset of the coronavirus outbreak in San Diego, though most live just streets away from him. Since he works in a hospital that treats COVID-19 patients, Rodriguez is concerned about bringing the disease to his family.
But he chooses to focus on the positive acts he sees carried out -- neighbors helping neighbors, landlords forgiving rent, messages of hope.
"All those little stories of human kindness, of people helping each other, it really inspires me," Rodriguez said. "All the little acts add up to one giant movement."
"I was part of that, doing something small to help people."
Rodriguez hopes that the "share your smile" campaign continues across the globe until it is time for the masks can come off and people can "actually see our smiles again."
To see some photos of health care professionals sharing their smiles, visit Rodriguez' Instagram here.