An 18-year-old student who died Sunday probably did more than anyone else to teach Americans compassion about AIDS.
Ryan White already was fighting hemophilia when he was exposed to AIDS through a transfusion of blood products 5 years ago. He then had to fight not only the two deadly diseases but the attitudes of his classmates, their families, school administrators and much of his community. His family had to move to another town to win him the right to attend public school.
Ryan showed his courage by patiently teaching those around him that they didn't have to be frightened of him. He taught them they could go to class with him, play games with him, even give him a hug without risking contact with the AIDS virus. He taught people that Ryan the person could be separated from Ryan the AIDS patient.
He also showed his courage by not giving up on himself. He fought his disease to the end, attending school up to two weeks before he died. He just wanted to be a normal teen-ager, but the determined way he fought to live the most normal life he could, in some ways, made him a celebrity.
Ryan's schoolmates at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind., learned about Ryan's death in an assembly at the start of school Monday. Students who wanted to attend his funeral were to be excused from class. ``Ryan wanted it very low-key, and we're going to keep it low-key and have school as normal as possible today,'' the school principal said.
Ryan may have wanted it "very low-key," but his passing probably will draw as much attention as his life. His memory should serve as an example and an inspiration not only for other AIDS patients but for all Americans in dealing with a disease that probably will be part of our lives for many years to come.