A quote from the inspiring speech made by a head boy being treated for an aggressive cancer has won the Quote of the Year competition.

Christchurch Boys' High School head boy Jake Bailey received an unprecedented 77 per cent of the public vote to become the winner of the Massey University competition this year.

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Jake attended his end-of-year prizegiving in a wheelchair to deliver a heartfelt speech. One week beforehand, he was diagnosed with Burkitt non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and told he might not live to see the day.

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His winning quote was: "Here's the thing -- none of us get out of life alive. So be gallant, be great, be gracious, and be grateful for the opportunities that you have."

A video of the inspirational speech has been viewed more than 1.5 million times on YouTube.

The teenager was diagnosed with Burkitt -- a fast-growing cancer which is fatal if left untreated -- in late October.

He underwent about a week of intensive chemotherapy before delivering the speech.

A record number of votes were cast in this year's competition -- a total of 7784 compared with 4198 last year.

The very distant second and third places were taken out by Steve Hansen's "Just my arm" (his answer when asked what else he had up his sleeve during the Rugby World Cup) and Act leader David Seymour's "The French love the coq" (when asked whether his silver fern pin would be replaced with a red peak flag).

Dr Heather Kavan, a speech-writing specialist at Massey University's School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing, said the scale of Mr Bailey's win was completely unexpected.

"While there was always a strong chance Jake Bailey's quote would win, nobody predicted such a landslide.

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"Even in the first days of the competition, well before the Prime Minister was wearing a bracelet with Jake's quote on it, Jake had 73 per cent of the votes."

Dr Kavan said that, every now and then, a person comes along who inspires great feelings of affection in New Zealanders -- and this was certainly the case with Mr Bailey.

"I've watched the speech several times and it's clear from the footage that something special happened in the room when Jake Bailey spoke. Online comments show that several viewers cried from the beginning of the speech to the end."

Dr Kavan said the "extraordinary circumstances" surrounding the speech were also key to the quote's win.

"First, there's the fact that Jake Bailey wrote the speech before he was told that if he didn't get medical treatment he wouldn't be alive to deliver it.

"So the first part of the quote 'Here's the thing: none of us get out of life alive' has a whole new emotional meaning.

"Then there's the strength it took for Jake to give the speech. His face is pale and his voice is trembling with emotion, but he uses strong words: 'Be gallant, be great.' Later we learn that Jake was vomiting off-stage before he spoke and for hours afterwards."

Dr Kavan said the speech embodied the qualities of love and strength, which are already a powerful blend, but then the speech reached a much wider audience through traditional and social media.

"Something unexpected happens -- the students break into a spontaneous rousing haka and rendition of the school song. By chance, the speech and audience response were recorded, as the school had arranged a live-stream when staff thought Jake would be viewing the prizegiving from hospital. The footage goes viral, and even the Prime Minister is wearing Jake Bailey's quotation around his wrist.

"The quote becomes what I call a signature quote. The words embody Jake's message and the message is his life."

Quote of the Year

Winner:

"Here's the thing -- none of us get out of life alive. So be gallant, be great, be gracious, and be grateful for the opportunities that you have." -- student Jake Bailey in a speech at his senior prizegiving ceremony a week after he was told if he did not get cancer treatment he would not be alive to give the speech.

Finalists:

• "That's a very tantalising ponytail." -- Waitress Amanda Bailey's recollection of Prime Minister John Key's statement before pulling her ponytail.

• "The French love the coq." -- Act leader David Seymour when answering a question about whether his silver fern pin would be replaced with a red peak flag.

• "Just my arm." -- Steve Hansen when asked what else he had up his sleeve during the Rugby World Cup tournament.

• "I started here aged 27 in a suit I borrowed from my Dad. I could never have dreamed what would happen in the next 24 years." -- John Campbell speaking to viewers on the final Campbell Live show.

• "We've been asked to vote for the tallest dwarf." -- Marketing expert Mike Hutcheson discussing the chosen four flag designs on TVNZ's Breakfast show.

• "Squeaky sand, eh!" -- Bachelor Art Green after contestant Poppy Salter passes wind on their televised first date in what became known internationally as "the fart that stopped the nation".

• "I survived the Kills!" -- Tweet of X factor contestant Joe Irvine after being bullied by Natalia Kills and Willy Moon on live television. Kills and Moon were sacked from the show following a public outcry.

• "No man should have his wife's brain on his shirt." -- A point made repeatedly by Queens Counsel Philip Morgan in the Mark Lundy murder case retrial.

• "I used to make fun of him, I said no one could catch him because whenever the nostrils flared up he took all the oxygen." -- Former All Black Eric Rush paying tribute to Jonah Lomu at his memorial.