"I wrote a speech," Jake Bailey began his graduation address. "And then a week before I was due to deliver this speech tonight, they said 'You've got cancer.' They said, 'If you don't get any treatment within the next three weeks, you're gonna die. And then they told me that I wouldn't be here tonight to deliver that speech."
Bailey, a senior at Christchurch Boys' High School in New Zealand, was diagnosed with lymphoma a week before his graduation. He has Burkitt lymphoma, a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that typically affects males. The disease is aggressive and deadly—doctors told Bailey he needed immediate treatment and that he would have to miss his graduation.
Instead, Bailey left the hospital to attend his graduation ceremony, defying the odds and surprisng the crowd by delivering a heartfelt, powerful speech from his wheelchair. His words quickly went viral after being posted on YouTube.
"Here's the thing," Bailey said. "None of us get out of life alive. So be gallant, be great, be gracious, and be grateful for the opportunities you have. We don't know where we might end up, or when we might end up."
Bailey also spoke about developing moral strength, facing your fears, and embracing the present by seizing the day. "The future is truly in our hands," he said. "Let's be passionately dedicated to the pursuit of short-term goals." And he capped his speech with the school motto, "Altiora Peto" ("I seek higher things").
Indeed, following Bailey's speech, several students performed a haka for him, a traditional Maori dance given to honor those who are held in high esteem.
"I've tried sharing this video & story overseas, but only Kiwis will ever understand the sheer level of honour it is to have a haka performed specifically for you," wrote a YouTube commenter.
That may be true. But another commenter summed up our feelings perfectly: "I am an American [and] I understand...don't underestimate the tender hearts all over the world who can see what an amazing young man this is :)"