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Friends, family remember tech star’s desire ‘to change the world’

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 10:00 a.m. CST
(Photo by Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune/MCT)
The casket of Aaron Swartz, the Reddit co-founder and Internet activist, is moved to a waiting hearse during his funeral Tuesday, January 15, 2013, at North Suburban Lubavitch Chabad Central Avenue Synagogue in Chicago, Illinois.

(MCT) — CHICAGO — The sanctuary was filled to capacity at Central Avenue Synagogue in Highland Park, Ill., Tuesday as mourners said tearful goodbyes to Aaron Swartz, an Internet prodigy described by several people who eulogized him as brilliant, funny, provocative and out to make the world a better place.

Facing a trial on charges that he illegally downloaded millions of academic journal articles, and the possibility of a long prison sentence if convicted, Swartz hanged himself in his New York apartment Friday. He was 26.

“Aaron wanted so badly to change the world,” said his partner, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, choking back tears. “He wanted it more than money. He wanted it more than fame.”

Stinebrickner-Kauffman said Swartz believed it was important to see the world as it really is — even if it is cruel and unjust.

“When things are hard — and he said it is the important things that are hard — you have to lean into the pain.  With his trial and what he is facing the last two years, he finally fell into the pain, ” Stinebrickner-Kauffman said.  

Larry Lessig, a Harvard Law School professor and longtime friend and mentor, spoke of Swartz’s love of life and how, in the end, Swartz, who Lessig described as “an old, wise soul,” became his  mentor.

At times pausing to compose himself, Lessig said: “I want to go to his parents and hold them and say, ‘How did you make this sweet, brilliant boy who only ever asked how to make the world better? How did you do it?’ ”

Lessig read from an email he found in which Swartz apologized for a blog post that was inappropriate. After rereading the email Monday night, Lessig said he believes Swartz would have come away from the service Tuesday with similar words:

“I come away from our conversation with the notion that I did something that might have hurt you. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. There are few people in this world I have as much affection and respect for. … I am sorry if an overzealous attempts to maintain my independence I have been bad in thinking that clear,” the email read.

Swartz’s death has sparked much debate on whether prosecutors were overzealous in their case against him.

Swartz, who created a Wikipedia-like Web encyclopedia as a teenager and later co-founded the popular Reddit website, became a champion for online openness who argued for free access to academic research papers.

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