Cayden Buitendach’s elevation to head boy at Hamilton Boys’ High School is made more significant when held up against the gruelling battle he has been through.
Just one football game in May last year left Cayden with severe concussion, effectively robbing him of 10 months of normal life. He couldn’t return to school, couldn’t concentrate without fading out, his vision and balance went haywire and there were times he couldn’t stand up. Driving was out of the question, sport a distant dream… and he feared he’d lose his academic edge.
“The really bad part lasted about five months,” he said. “I’d been aiming for academic honours and excellence but couldn’t sit any exams. I had seven credits and needed 50 to get honours. At the beginning of November, when the seniors went on study leave, I was finally able to go to school for several hours at a time… I caught up in four weeks.”
Cayden didn’t just catch up, he aced it. With unflinching school support, he did eight papers in four weeks, gaining excellence in all and his coveted academic honours. This year, he’s doing chemistry, biology, physics, English and maths.
Leaving high school with strong academic and sporting grades is an important goal as he casts his eye on a full sports scholarship to an American university to do a pre-med course. The long-term prize is a career in medicine, something he says has been affirmed by his own recent experience and ongoing contact with medical specialists.
His proud parents, Wanda and Gerhard, say their boy has been infused with drive and determination from the start. They left South Africa for New Zealand 17 years ago, settling in Cambridge when Cayden was just five months old, later adding daughter Cayla to the family.
He attended Goodwood School then Cambridge Middle School before starting at Hamilton Boys’ High. In 2018 he was the overall winner of ‘Best in Fair’ at the Waikato Science and Technology Fair for his project ‘Blown Away’, one that examined the potential for dimples on aircraft wings to reduce drag.
Service is important to him. He has his bronze Duke of Edinburgh award and will go for silver this year. He has volunteered with Cambridge Resthaven and its community garden and helps refugee students at his school learn to swim.
Cayden has always loved anything to do with sport, excelling with both cricket and football from a young age, grasping every opportunity afforded him. At age 11, he played football in Australia, and in 2019 played in Las Vegas. Success in cricket saw him play for Waikato Valley, and he was awarded Junior Secondary Best Bowler for the 2019/20 season.
Last year’s accident stalled numerous significant opportunities, but he is excited to get back into it now, playing both for his school 1st XI and club, Melville United. He is also training for trials for the NZ U20 team.
Life is starting to look good again for Cayden. His is “about 95 percent” symptom-free, he reckons. He’s been working at Palate in Hamilton over summer but will now drop those hours back. His role as head boy won’t be a walk in the park; the school has around 2300 students and he will have to handle a lot of administrative tasks, liaising all the while with his five deputies and 35 prefects.
Most of all, Cayden is beyond excited to be back among it after so many months of struggle and isolation. It’s time to give something back, he thinks.
“I want to be a spokesperson at school for concussion and what it means. There is so much you just don’t know about until it affects you. I’d like to help where I can.”
High praise from principal
Hamilton Boys’ High School headmaster Susan Hassall describes Cayden Buitendach as a ‘superb role model for every young man in our world’ – gracious and humble, committed to serving others.
“I was very proud to have the opportunity to announce Cayden as our head boy for 2022. He received a wonderful ovation from his peers, and the announcement was very popular with staff,” said Hassall, who, like Cayden, lives in Cambridge.
“Cayden demonstrates all the qualities in a young man that we cherish as a school. He aspires to be the best he can be, he is a very talented athlete and an outstanding scholar,” she added.
“He has shown genuine courage, in so many ways, in his response to the serious concussion he received last football season. He recognises the need for love and care in everything he does, as a leader, as a young man.”