Indy’s Paige Rawl is pretty amazing—even Seventeen magazine thinks so. Selected from more than 30,000 applicants as a finalist for the queen teen mag's annual “Pretty Amazing” contest, which honors inspiring young women, the 19-year-old landed a trip to New York City complete with a makeover and photo shoot for the October issue (plus a photo op with Carly Rae Jepsen, obvs). “I just didn’t expect to be one of them,” Rawl says. “It was definitely a huge surprise.”
The coverage earned Rawl national recognition for a personal cause. Born with HIV, she took to public speaking to combat the bullying she endured in middle school, when classmates nicknamed her “PAIDS." At 14, she became American Red Cross's youngest certified HIV/AIDS educator. Early this year, she helped convince the Indiana General Assemby to pass anti-bullying legislation. About the same time, Rawl sent Seventeen an essay explaining why she is “pretty amazing,” and the magazine asked her to create a video for its website.
"[The next month] I went on to Skype thinking it was another video interview,” Paige says, “and it was actually them telling us we were one of the finalists.”
Next up for Rawl: a talk at Saturday’s Indiana AIDS Walk. First, we chatted with the city's newest hero.
MICHELA TINDERA: What was your reaction when you found out you were a finalist?
PAIGE RAWL: I was so excited. The hardest part was that we weren’t allowed to tell anybody but our parents for a couple of weeks.
MT: Your story is being shared among millions of Seventeen readers. How do you feel about being such a huge role model for other kids who have been growing up HIV positive?
PR: I want to be the voice for those who haven’t yet found that courage to come out and share their own story—just because they have this disease that they’re no different from anybody else.
MT: You dealt with some harassment from other kids growing up. What would you want to tell the parents of kids with HIV-positive classmates?
PR: I think parents need to realize that someone being friends with someone who’s [HIV] positive, they’re not at any risk and they should treat them like any other friend. I think the parents play a big part in how the kids are going to treat kids that are positive, because the majority of parents of students, you know, they were there when the disease first came out and had a big stigma. A lot of times, when kids harass those who are positive, that it’s because it’s the way they see their parents act toward people with that disease. I think that parents just need to become educated and teach their children that just because someone is positive doesn’t mean they can’t have a normal life, too.
MT: Where do you find your strength?
PR: I have people come up to me all the time who say, “I’ve always wanted to start speaking” or “I’ve wanted to tell people about my status,” and they’ll come to me and talk about it. I think that’s what makes me feel good. I spoke at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, and this little boy came up to me and said he was HIV positive and that nobody at his school, none of his classmates, knew. Knowing that he felt like he could trust me enough to come and talk keeps me going.
MT: HIV/AIDS definitely doesn’t have the media presence that it once did in the early 1980s and ’90s. Do you wish there was more?
PR: I did a documentary for World AIDS day last year with Nickelodeon, and the title was “Forgotten, but Not Gone.” Even though 20 years ago there was so much talk about the disease, now, because it’s not a death sentence and there are so many different treatments, people are starting to forget about it. I think we’ve come a long way, but there’s still a long way to go.
See Pagie Rawl's Seventeen video and read her entry essay.