Just one week before his final school assembly, Christchurch Boys’ High School’s head boy Jake Bailey was told he may not have long to live.
The 18-year-old New Zealand student was bedridden and absent from school for three weeks while undergoing treatment for aggressive cancer.
But during his final school prize-giving ceremony he managed to give an inspirational speech from the seat of his wheelchair, which went viral on YouTube.
“None of us get out of life alive, so be gallant, be great, be gracious, and be grateful for the opportunities you have,” Jake told the audience.
The school listened in silence as he told of his diagnosis with Burkitts non-Hodgkinson lymphoma, one of the fastest growing tumours.
“They said, if you don’t get any treatment within the next three weeks you’re going to die. Then they told me I wouldn’t be here tonight to deliver this speech,” he said.
The brave young man thanked his peers, the teachers, their mentors and the old boys of the school, and most of all, the parents, who he said “herded them out the door each day”.
“The future is truly in our hands. Forget about having long-term dreams. Let’s be passionately dedicated to the pursuit of short-term goals. Micro-ambitious. Work with pride on what is in front of us. We don’t know where we might end up. Or when it might end up.”
Jake went on to say his middle name was Ross, named after his great uncle Ross Bailey, who drowned in Sri Lanka not long before Jake was born.
He said his great-uncle was one of the best surgeons in the world, coming from a working-class background, and also attended Christchurch Boys’ High School.
“A true pioneer and the first person to perform a kidney transplant in New Zealand,” Jake said.
“Now we can’t all save lives by transplanting organs, but we can make difference in our own way.
“My challenge to each of you, and to myself, is to continue to grow, to develop for the better.”
Jake won’t be able to sit his exams because he will be undergoing treatment, but wished his peers all the best.
“Here we are, ready to move on men,” he said.
“I don’t know where it goes from here for any of us, for me, for you, but I wish you the very best of your journey.
“Wherever we go and whatever we do, may we always be friends when we meet again.”
He finished his speech with ‘Altiora Peto’ – a Latin phrase meaning ‘I aim higher’ – which attracted a standing ovation and his classmates breaking out into the ‘haka’ followed by the school song, in his honour.
“Thank you,” Jake mouthed, through tears.
The school’s headmaster Nic Hill said in a statement that the school community was thinking of Jake.
“Our hearts go out to Jake and his family,” Mr Hill said.
“A number of people have offered to cook meals or do other favours for Jake’s family and at this stage we request that these people leave their name at reception.”