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Miss America Alerts Teens to AIDS Peril

January 23, 1998|SUSAN DEEMER

Since being crowned Miss America 1998, Kate Shindle hasn't needed to wear her crown to capture the interest of teens in her yearlong HIV/AIDS education campaign.

Instead, the former Miss Illinois has won them over with her quick wit, a stunning smile and easygoing personality.

"When you are giving a speech on AIDS and you have a crown on your head, for some reason people don't take you seriously," she said jokingly.

In her only Orange County appearance, Shindle spoke openly about the deadly illness Thursday before about 60 students at El Toro High School. She encouraged students who choose to have sex to use latex condoms, and to be tested for HIV infection.

"If you don't have sex and use drugs you will probably never have to worry about getting HIV or AIDS," Shindle, 20, told the students.

Orange County Red Cross officials invited Shindle to speak to students when they learned she would be in San Diego for the Super Bowl.

In 1993, Leanza Cornett blazed the trail as the first Miss America to promote HIV/AIDS education.

But Shindle has her own reasons. "When a professor in our theater department died of AIDS, it was the first time someone in my immediate environment had been infected and it really opened my eyes," the Northwestern University theater major told students.

Although pressure to study for final exams kept more than 200 students with parental permission from hearing Shindle's speech, those who came said her message was important.

"She presented some of the same facts we present when we volunteer [in the Red Cross peer education program]," said Red Cross volunteer Linda Quang, 16, a Garden Grove High School student. "She's just like us."

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