Oct. 5 was a day full of tears, hugs, and validation. As part of Marjory Stoneman Douglas DECA’s “I Am Enough” chapter project, international award-winning speaker, youth educator and HIV/AIDS advocate Scott Fried addressed MSD in an assembly geared to raise morale and inspire students.
Co-leaders of the DECA public relations chapter project Emily Weingarten and Ryan Marks worked since March to prepare for this event. They spent hours calling Fried, filling out project approval forms, writing countless emails, and inviting teachers to the multiple assemblies held throughout the day. The project, known as “I am Enough” includes a promotional video, social media campaigns and the spreading of student’s stories in addition to this assembly. The project has been selected to represent Stoneman Douglas DECA at the state and district competition levels.
“We felt that bringing Scott was important because Scott can teach our school the importance of loving yourself and living with your mistakes,” Marks said. “Scott’s story also showed students that they are not alone and should seek people that care about them.”
Fried began with his most closeted secrets. He revealed that deep down, like the many students gathered before him in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas auditorium, he wants to be liked and he wants to belong.
“I don’t want to have to do, or say something for someone to like me,” Fried said. “I don’t want to have to say the funny thing or be the coolest person in the room for you to include me. I want to know that the mistakes that I make, and the thoughts that I have that haunt me, and the shame that I live with, and the fears that find me – even with my secret life, I am still enough. I want to know that I still belong and that I am a part of this.”
Fried, who has been living as HIV positive for years, continued with an evocative account of the path that led him to get infected. By including his train of thought leading up to his exposure to the virus, Fried provided the audience with a raw and candid recollection of one of the most personal moments in his life. Although he talked about a rather despairing time in his life, his words were uplifting and encouraging rather than despondent and regretful.
“It made me tear up when [Fried] talked about how he got HIV,” senior Jenna Talisman said. “Even though it was such a private moment of his life, he was so inviting and honest that it really made me feel the emotion of the moment. However, he was so positive and uplifting, that I left feeling much better about myself.”
In addition to his moving words, Fried engaged his audience, asking them a number of questions and referencing social media. This created a personable effect.
Fried finished with a poignant video tribute to his friends who have passed away as a result of AIDS. In total, Fried has had over 133 friends, including a boyfriend and a best friend pass away as a result of AIDS complications. The rawness of the subject brought many audience members to tears.
“It was really upsetting to see the video about his friends who have died from AIDS,” sophomore Isabella Cohen said. “I am glad that he showed it to us, because it showed me that even though his life is tougher than I imagined, he has such a positive outlook.”
Immediately following the assembly, Fried went back to English teacher Donna Amelkin’s room, to share his message with the History of the Holocaust students. During this time, Fried gave a more informal talk; he took questions from audience members and addressed them personally.
“It was an amazing moment that people chose to share with me what they deal with,” Fried said. “It showed that they trusted me and that they are enough at peace with who they are to say out loud ‘this is my issue.’ I want to leave here today thinking that some of these students think ‘oh my god my life is better than it was.’”
The positive response from students was astounding – over 50 students waited to shake his hand after the assembly, but teachers commended him as well.
“I absolutely loved him. I loved having him,” Amelkin said. “His message wasn’t so much about HIV, as it was about how to live your life and to give back – how to take any kind of pain you have and make it not evil. I think that is something so many kids can identify with. I him saw four times and every hour it was very different, and I got something new out of each hour. He is very quick on his feet; he is very witty, very smart, and he makes what he talks about very relatable.”