“I need you all to stay awake. If you fall asleep you’ll really miss out on something great.”
Perched on the edge of the Goldstein Auditorium stage Wednesday night, Scott Fried began his talk to 250 Syracuse University students with that opening line.
Fried was infected with HIV in 1987. The national public speaker and health educator has made it his mission for the past 18 years to help others protect themselves from the disease.
“One hundred twenty nine friends have died of AIDS, most of them in their 20s, and that’s you guys, your age," Fried said. "I don’t want to see that happen to you."
Today, HIV and AIDS do not receive the public attention they did in the 1980s. But Fried maintains that both are ever-present dangers, made even more threatening by the common occurrence of unsafe sex, especially among teenagers and college students.
“When you’re lonely and horny, that’s a bad combination," Fried said. " But when you’re lonely, horny, and drunk, that’s an even worse combination."
Fried cited the lack of adequate health and sex education in the nation’s schools as a significant contributor to unsafe sex practices.
“We don’t want to believe that our teenagers are engaging in sexual activities and people get angry when I want to talk about it,” he said. “I don’t plant the idea to have sex in their minds. I didn’t invent sex. Sex for them is a need to fulfill an emptiness.
"If they believe that someone is going to complete them, then they’re going to get laid.”
Fried talked openly about his own sexuality and experience with HIV, trying to relate his own life to those of the students sitting in the audience.
Like all people, said Fried, he had an “emptiness” inside of him that he tried to fill with sex. Other people throw up, cut themselves, use drugs or alcohol to “numb their feelings.” For Fried, it was sex. As a result of one incident of unsafe sex, Fried’s life was irreversibly changed.
Fried became an inspirational speaker after the funeral of his 73rd friend who died of AIDS. The friend had a journal that was read aloud at the funeral full of things he never had the chance to do while alive. Fried was determined that his own journal would not read the same as his friend’s at his own funeral. His journal would be filled with the things he did do.
Now, wearing his "unofficial uniform" of brightly painted American Eagle jeans, given to him by a Puerto Rican student in San Juan, and black T-shirt, Fried travels the country giving speeches, educating the public and raising HIV/AIDS awareness. Also, Fried has traveled to talk in countries including Canada, Israel, Holland, England and Honduras.
“People in other countries are always overwhelmed by my honesty," Fried said. "In America, people know people who are gay. In England, they may joke about it, but they don’t talk about it.
"I rock a lot of boats.”
SU student Justin Shapiro who attended Fried’s speech Wednesday, supports the educator's mission.
“He calls attention to what everyone is too blind to see,” Shapiro said.
Public health junior Kristen Culmo said she enjoyed Fried’s talk more than she thought she would.
“I actually had very few expectations, but I thought he was really inspirational and directed what he said toward a lot of students,” said Culmo, who was manning the Keep A Child Alive table in the back of Goldstein Auditorium.
Fried hopes that the SU students who attended his talk heard his message and will consider the consequences of unprotected sex.
“I don’t actually know if I’ve made a difference yet at SU," Fried said. "Ten years ago they were not protecting themselves. I’m certain that there are still young adults not using protection. I don’t think a lot has changed.”