Author shares story of growing up with HIV

A 22-year-old woman who was born with HIV brought her life story and positive message to students at Seymour High School earlier last month.

Paige Rawl, a Hoosier and author of the book “Positive,” spent time talking to students about bullying and meeting life’s challenges with a positive attitude.

Rawl’s memoir chronicles the challenges she faced in middle and high school when her peers and others at school learned she was HIV positive.

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As a young child, she said she was never concerned by her condition because the medications and the doctor’s appointments were just a normal part of her life.

But when she entered middle school and disclosed her HIV status to a friend, that’s when trouble began, she said.

That friend revealed Rawl’s HIV status to other students, leading to constant bullying from friends, schoolmates and even a coach because of something that wasn’t her fault.

Because of the bullying, Rawl said she felt isolated and faced making decisions about her life and future without the help of friends or even teachers and administrators.

She attempted suicide, was homeschooled for a while and later transferred to another school.

But even as her world was closing in on itself, Rawl began to see things in a new light, she said.

She saw her situation as an opportunity to help others facing bullying and to show people that HIV can look different than what they think it does.

Rawl now visits schools to educate students about the effects of bullying and share facts surrounding HIV and AIDS. Students are able to see a real example of how one particular life has been affected by bullying and how they can help prevent it from happening to others.

Her April 13 visit to Seymour High School, which was sponsored by the school’s media center and the Community Foundation of Jackson County, came one day after the national HIV awareness day.

Seymour High School media specialist Jill Prange said she read Rawl’s book after it was recommended by Malia Rose, the school’s assistant media specialist.

“We were both very much impressed with this young woman for overcoming so many obstacles — HIV, bullying, loss of friendship and even a suicide attempt,” Prange said. “We agreed that this needed to be our next author speaker.”

The school has hosted authors before, including James Phelan, who wrote “The Last Thirteen” series, and Mike Mullin, author of the “Ashfall” series, both works of fiction.

“This one was different in that the book is a memoir about Paige Rawl’s personal experiences,” Prange said. “Students responded well to Rawl’s message, asked appropriate questions and seemed genuinely moved by her life story.”

Prange said after Rawl’s presentation, several students stayed to have personal conversations with her and get her autograph.

“I really feel as though this particular experience was definitely a positive one,” Prange said.

Sophomore Haley Weaver said Rawl’s experiences made her realize why it’s important to accept people for who they are.

“I could tell that she was a very strong woman who has been through a lifetime of resiliency,” Weaver said. “She reinforced my ability to look past traits which people have no control over and have a further respect for them.”

Rawl said the students are what keep her motivated to share her story.

She wants the youth of today to know how to not only handle unfavorable situations, but how to remain positive and to stay confident in themselves and their abilities to get through it.

Students could enter a drawing for the chance to win a copy of Rawl’s book and the opportunity to have lunch with her.

Sophomore Macy Williams was one of the dozen lucky winners.

“She was accepting to any questions we had and was more than willing to answer,” Williams said. “I believe this experience has changed me for the better because talking to her and hearing her story allowed me to further understand how much words can affect people and the way they feel.”