‘Be great, be grateful’ says sick teenager

Wise words: Jake Bailey made his inspirational speech a week after being diagnosed with cancer.

In a moving speech, terminally-ill Jake Bailey told his classmates to be ‘micro-ambitious’ and focus only on short-term goals. Is it time to abandon grand visions and start living for now?

Jake Bailey did not think he would be able to deliver his speech at his school’s prize-giving ceremony in New Zealand. Just a week before the event, the senior monitor — similar to a head boy — had been diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma, a particularly aggressive form of cancer. If he did not receive immediate treatment, he would have just weeks to live.

But the 18-year-old was allowed to leave his intensive chemotherapy to attend the event at Christchurch Boys’ High School.

‘I wrote this before I knew I had cancer,’ he explained, ‘and now I have a whole new spin on it.’ The inspirational speech thanked his parents, classmates and teachers for their part in his life, before offering some advice. ‘None of us gets out of life alive,’ he said. ‘So be gallant, be great, be gracious and be grateful for the opportunities that you have.’

He then presented a challenge to his fellow students: ‘Forget about long-term dreams; let’s be passionately dedicated to the pursuit of short-term goals… Work with passion and pride on what is in front of us. We don’t know where we might end up, or when it might end up.’

The advice is not new; the importance of ‘living in the now’ has been discussed for centuries through the Buddhist meditation tradition. At its core is a practice known as ‘mindfulness’ which encourages people to focus on the present. In recent years, studies have found that ‘living in the moment’ allows brains to become less stressed and more empathetic.

Jake received a standing ovation for his speech. One group of boys responded with a spontaneous haka, a traditional Maori dance which is used as a war cry, a welcome, and to acknowledge great achievements.

The video of Jake’s speech has been viewed almost 700,000 times since it was posted last week. The response has ‘humbled’ his headteacher, who said Jake’s treatment will be ‘very tough’ — but stressed that his prognosis is good.

Right here, right now

‘Seize the day’ has become almost a cliche, but many still believe fervently in its message. They argue that focusing on the present and solving the immediate challenges ahead will lead you to a much freer and more exciting life. It can also make you happier — without worrying about the future, you are far more likely to appreciate the things you have.

But we cannot all jump from moment to moment without any plan, others argue. Long-term goals drive progress and keep people motivated. Without them, America could never have declared independence; Britain would not have created a free National Health Service; and scientists today would not be continuing to work towards curing disease. Living for now is all well and good; but grand visions keep the world turning.

You Decide

  1. Have Jake’s words inspired you to live your life differently?
  2. It is impossible to predict the future — are long-term plans still useful?

Activities

  1. In three separate envelopes, write down three goals you would like to achieve today, this week, and by the end of the year. Open them when the time comes to see if you have achieved them.
  2. Write your own 200-word speech offering advice to your fellow students.

Some People Say...

“Let others argue over small things, but not you.”

Jim Rohn, quoted by Jake Bailey

What do you think?

Q & A

Should I listen to Jake’s advice?
You should always try to listen to the advice of others, especially when it comes from such a heartfelt place. There is a reason that meditation and the ‘carpe diem’ motto are still so well-known in our culture, despite their ancient roots — they have helped many people to understand their place in the world. But there is a lot of conflicting advice out there, so it’s important to know how to consider it carefully, and reach your own decision.
Will he be okay?
It’s impossible to know, and his condition is very serious. But while Jake’s form of cancer is fairly rare, it is treatable — especially in someone so young and healthy. ‘He’s facing this amazing challenge, he’s inspiring others, but he really needs to be looking after himself,’ said his headteacher.

Word Watch

Burkitt lymphoma
This rare form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma develops in immune cells, and is known to be the fastest-growing tumour in humans. If caught in time, it can be treated effectively.
Chemotherapy
This common cancer treatment uses medicine, through pills or by injecting the substance directly into the veins. There are many different combinations, depending on the patient, but it works by damaging cancerous cells.
Christchurch Boys’ High School
The prestigious 130-year-old school is based in Canterbury, New Zealand. Its high-achieving former students, who are referred to as ‘old boys’, have gone on to become Rhodes scholars, Olympic athletes, military commanders and notable politicians — including one prime minister.
Buddhist
This Eastern religion is based on the teaching of Gautama Buddha, or simply ‘the Buddha’, who lived in India at some time between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE.
Haka
The dance originated with the indigenous Maori people of New Zealand. Now, it is most commonly known as part of the pre-match ritual by the All Blacks national rugby team.

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