HIV and AIDS speaker, author and advocate Scott Fried speaks to high school students


photo by Jessica Gallo

HIV and AIDS speaker, author and activist Scott Fried spoke to high school students this past Monday.

Jessica Gallo, Reporter

HIV and AIDS advocate and author Scott Fried spoke to CESJDS high school students on Monday, March 25 throughout the day and during lunch and community time. Fried’s message was not just about HIV and AIDS awareness and prevention, but also on the importance of loving yourself, even if you are still figuring out who you want to be.

Fried was diagnosed with AIDS 31 years ago and lost his boyfriend and many other friends to the disease. Fried recalled that he would cry when he discussed his experiences at the beginning of his speaking career. As he progressed as a person and a speaker, Fried now talks about emotional health and feelings in addition to HIV and AIDS.

“When I first started teaching in 1992, I thought I was going to die of AIDS and I wanted to be remembered,” Fried said. “Now that it’s 2019 and its 31 years later and I’m still alive, I want you to be remembered.”

In visiting schools, synagogues, churches, youth group events and more to talk about his experiences and what he has learned, Fried wants to be remembered by making an impact on teens and how they see themselves within the world. Fried wants teens to know that they can be whoever they want and can feel however they want or need.

“It’s about you,” Fried said. “I want you and your world to be better than the world I grew up in. I want you to have more fundamental rights than I was given and the rights to be exactly who you are, even if being who you are makes you uncomfortable at the moment.”

Freshman Hailey Nydish first thought of the idea to bring Fried to JDS. Nydish heard Fried speak at BBYO’s Regional Convention in January. When she returned to school the following Tuesday, she immediately went to her guidance counselor, Melissa Gartner, and asked her to bring Fried in to speak to her grade.

“I begged [Gartner to bring him in],” Nydish said. “He needs to come to JDS. My grade needs to hear something like this. His approach on the topic and HIV and AIDS and protecting your body was really different and sort of just stuck with me more than any other speaker has.”

After hearing much positive feedback from a few students who went to his talk at the same convention, guidance looked into the idea of asking Fried to speak at JDS again to share the importance of being both physically and emotionally healthy.

Gartner supported the idea of bringing Fried to speak at JDS, and worked with guidance counselor Rachel Soifer and Dean of Students Roslyn Landy to make it happen. Fried had been to JDS before and used to come and speak as part of the social and emotional health unit, and the guidance team agreed it would be an empowering and educational experience to bring him in again and let him share his stories with students.

“I think Scott is compelling because he is brave and vulnerable and open about his own story,” Soifer said. “I think he artfully demonstrates how one can go and get through very personal, private, and sometimes very painful experiences and be strong even when it doesn’t feel possible.”

Fried also had a lot to share with students about multiple important aspects in order to stay healthy, which really stood out to Gartner.

“I appreciated his holistic approach to his talk,” Gartner said. “I liked how he approached the intersection of mental health, physical health and sexual health, and how even one decision can impact all of those dimensions of one’s self.”

Fried also emphasized the importance of being there for others and being able to validate their feelings while they are going through a rough period of time. He said that being able to feel and empathize with someone would be more beneficial than trying to immediately fix the problem.

“I want you to have the right and to know that you are beautiful and that you are lovable, and to know that you are enough because you are,” Fried said.