Tom White '10: Renaissance Domer


Screams, Cries, and Unruly Outbursts echo across South Dining Hall as this week’s campus celebrity, senior Tom White strolls down the aisle, If you’ve seen Tom on campus, you probably understand an unusually loud sound cloud of screams and outbursts follows this Renaissance man wherever he goes. And if you know Tom personally, then you definitely understand the reason behind all of this hysteria. But can you honestly blame all his friends and admiring fans for causing such a ruckus around him wherever he goes? After all, this Senior Program of Liberal Studies and Italian double major, has definitely made the most of his 4 years here at Notre Dame. You can find Tom playing on the club hockey team, boxing, working on his senior thesis on Cesare Borgia and, amidst all this, finding time to give a unforgettable TEDxUND talk, one in which he brought the entire audience to their feet, simply by recounting a normal day in his life. As if that’s not enough, Tom has already penned the first 50 pages of a book, been a ball boy at the U.S. Open, dabbles in piano, magic, (and anything else that one can dabble in) and speaks fluent Italian. Sorry Dos Equis, but I think your most interesting man alive may just have been given a run for his money.

Hometown: Garden City, NY

Residence Hall: Dillon Hall. However, Tom has recently launched a campaign for the dorm to acknowledge to its unrecognized French roots, and change the name to Chateau Dillon. Call it a side senior research project, the renaming of Dillon to Chateau Dilón, is in accordance with its little known French lineage and founding by Napoleon, According to Tom. However, this process has taken a back seat to his studies given that he is facing some “bureaucratic hurdles” in this coup d’état

Major: PLS and Italian

Senior Thesis Project: Tom is currently doing a research project on Cesare Borgia and his influence on the Machiavellian political thought/theory. (Side senior thesis project: see Residence Hall)

One interesting life experience: “I was a ball boy at The U.S. Open. It was great, I had to apply for it. You would be so surprised how many people are under qualified to run, catch, and throw a ball for a few hours. It was great though, I got paid and got free food and clothes.” Tom noted as he pointed to his dark blue Ralph Lauren U.S. Open windbreaker, a bold choice for the balmy 30-degree weather.

Valentine’s Day plans? “Taking myself to a great dinner and movie; however, if any readers are interested I could postpone these plans…” and for those of you who are interested here’s a look into kind of fare this Valentine’s dinner would include:

Favorite food/ Drink: “Caviar, brie cheese, and Guinness.”

Words of Wisdom: “If you ever want to get out of anything, just give a classic ‘Go Irish’ in a somewhat southern accent. It’s great! It’s like a universal slogan that you can use for anything, ‘hello, goodbye, I don’t know what to say to you anymore.’ I use it all the time.”

What is your most memorable ND Experience? “It was one of the first dorm masses I went to at Dillon Hall (Chateau DIllón). We were singing one of the closing songs, “Lord of the Dance,” and everyone was getting really into it. Three verses into the song, the piano stopped, signaling the end of the song. But instead of stopping, the whole chapel kept singing. Next the piano picked back up and the other instruments started to come back in as well. That really spoke to me a lot about the kids here, and the spirit of the school. No matter what happens, you just keep plugging along or keep singing. You don’t just stop because something isn’t right, or is difficult. Standing there and singing with everyone really taught me a lesson about the school.”

Maybe the reason that this moment and lesson stuck out to Tom so much is that this same perseverance, has defined his entire life. Tom developed Tourette’s syndrome in third grade and since then has lived with the symptoms on a daily basis, overcoming them in the daily struggle to lead a normal life.

When did you first develop Tourette’s? “When I Was in Third Grade. It only started out as twitching, chirping, and blinking, and just progressed from there.”

Can you give an idea or comparison to what it is like? “Having Tourette’s is like having your thoughts being constantly bombarded with the urge to do things. I’m constantly under attack and have this overwhelming desire to yell, scream or twitch. And they’re not my thoughts, but I just have to fight them back.”

Are there medicines and/or treatments out there to treat Tourette’s?

“Yes, there are, but their side effects are not worth the benefits. However, in the future I do think that one day I will be able to overcome it.” And this hope is not unwarranted, given the fact that Tom can control the syndrome using some pure mind power.

Do you have the ability to control this at all? ­- “Yes I can control it, it just takes an incredible amount of attention and concentration. It has taught me to focus and concentrate very hard when I am trying to achieve something. When I’m in a more formal setting and know that I have to concentrate more, it is easier for me to control it. I become, hyper focused. I also have OCD, which actually helps me in perfecting this control over Tourette’s. But when I’m just with friends hanging out, I feel more relaxed and do not try to reign it in as much.”

How does having OCD affect you as well? “I see OCD as a blessing in disguise. It has helped me in my studies to makes sure all my papers are exact and perfect. It definitely helped for my TED talk, I was up late the night before practicing, and making sure I had every line perfect.

Check out Tom's TEDx talk!

Let’s talk about your TEDxUND talk. Tom was one of the 7 undergraduate students invited to give a 15-minute speech at TEDxUND. Tom captivated the audience by giving a humorous account of his daily struggles, making light of some of the absurd routines that he goes through to manage his Tourette’s. Even more powerful than this account of his day, however, was the message that he left with the audience. Behind all of his unsolicited profanities, twitches and outbursts, Tom finds an incredible message of hope, understanding, and solidarity amongst all humans.

“Being constantly attacked by this desire to yell or scream is just my own personal struggle. I have to constantly fight back, but so does everyone else. My struggle just seems to manifest itself in this peculiar, bizarre manner. In a way, I feel fortunate, because so many people can hide their issues, leaving them unaddressed and unsolved. Because of my situation, I can’t do that and it’s forced me and taught me to put everything out there, and accept people for who they really are. It has really taught me to appreciate other people and not judge them.”

If you are ever fortunate enough to have a conversation with Tom, you will immediately see this assured sense of self and understanding of others. You’ll also see that, for better or worse, he does not hold anything back. It’s clear from Tom’s TEDxUND talk that he has a message worth sharing, and the desire to reach out and share it with others. Tom has plans to write a book in the future, and has already begun writing the first 50 pages. With stories like, “The time I was tackled on an airplane for yelling, ‘I’ve got a gun,’” its sure to contain some entertainment and humor along with his powerful message of hope.

Between his TEDx talk, book, and promising future, Tom is on a fast track to being catapulted into unprecedented amounts of fame. He’s already received calls and e-mails from those who attended his talk and watched it online.

When asked, "How will you deal with all of this fame and notoriety?" Tom humbly responded with one simple request, “I only ask that the ladies form an orderly line. Go Irish.”

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