On Wednesday, February 14th, James Orrigo brought R-MA students a lesson in caring—one that will stick with them for many years to come.
The founder of “Lad in a Battle,” Orrigo began by telling the story of his high school years, when he was passionate about lacrosse, and was even being scouted by colleges. What few people knew was that his mother was suffering from cancer; over the years Orrigo was the one staying up until the wee morning hours, as she suffered from the illness following chemotherapy.
Their lives were upended further when a player on another team illegally cross-checked Orrigo, sending him to the ground. Moments later, the same player punched him in the temple, snapping his head around. Orrigo went down and didn’t get back up. Suffering from Severe Post-Concussion Syndrome, he spent the next two and a half years re-learning how to walk, talk, read, and write, among other “normal” tasks. During this time, a neighbor taught him to play guitar, and even though he had not played an instrument before, Orrigo found that music “made sense.” Writing and playing songs—sometimes extremely silly ones about things like “Boat Shoes”–became a source of comfort and smiles.
His trials did not end there. Just as Orrigo was packing up to leave for college, the doctors informed his mother that she had only about a week to live. Determined that her son would move on with his life, Orrigo’s mother pushed him to leave for college anyway. He obeyed, and she repaid him by beating the odds and surviving until his senior year of college.
After college, Orrigo began working in a Boston hospital in the children’s oncology unit. There he began helping children write and record their own songs, then created cartoon videos with them. He began calling the program “Outside the Music Box.” He became inspired to bring this source of hope to children at hospitals across the country—and he did, traveling more than 12,000 miles with his wife and his dog, bringing hope and laughter to each place—and sometimes comfort, as he would also create videos of the children who didn’t make it home, providing their parents with a tender remembrance.
Orrigo’s backstory and the story of his work brought the students to attentive silence, while his self-deprecating sense of humor endeared him to them and coaxed forth laughter in the early morning hours. Up on the screen were the points he was making with his various fast-talking, entertaining stories:
- You Make a Difference.
- Your Actions Matter.
- You Being You is Enough.
- Help and Listen.
“Take a negative situation, make something positive out of it, and help others,” he told the students. He can rest assured that the students received his message. Yiran “Harry” Su ’18 and Samuel Uzoma ’18 both declared that Orrigo was the best speaker R-MA has brought to campus—and that’s saying a lot, since both of them came to the Academy in their middle school years.
*Video provided by James Orrigo