The residents of Mandelbaum House had the privilege of listening to a highly motivational, witty yet genuinely modest speech by “character” Thomas Whalan at the first formal dinner of Semester 2, 2017. Thomas Whalan is renowned by Australia as a four-time Olympic representative in water polo and currently holds the position of director of Water Polo Australia. Since his last Olympic games in London 2012, Thomas has started 2 businesses, Water Polo by the Sea and Rent a Space Self Storage while continuing his devotion as a loving husband and proud father of 4 children. Despite his extensive list of achievements, Thomas believes his career is not what defines him. Instead, it is his character.

The evening opened with a beautiful piano piece written and performed by resident Zeph Yap which was as gentle as rain. The audience applauded the piece which was revealed to be half improvised and soon after, a delightful dinner of perfectly cooked salmon and wholesome salads was served. Thomas delivered his speech to the residents or as he referred to as “the future leaders” with passion and conviction. He recounted his journey through important milestones and at every moment, enlightened the audience of the life lessons he had learnt. Thomas emphasised the significance of a person’s character by explaining it in a sporting context. “Sport is a metaphor for life,” he stated. An athlete can be exceptionally talented but “if his character cannot keep up with his talent,” he will lose himself. It was clear every person in the room was fully engaged in his words of wisdom. Faces of contemplation were evident on students who used that time to measure their character against their talents.

Thomas continued by further explaining the notion of character through leadership which became the key topic of the speech. Leadership was identified as a valuable quality not only in sport, but in all aspects of life and particularly in relationships. Thomas pointed out how one needs to be “deliberate” like a leader in their approach of pursuing goals and people. This point strongly resonated with me because as a university student, I am swimming in a sea of opportunities which I acknowledge but am not taking deliberate action to seize.

As a graduate of The University of Sydney, Thomas also spoke about his university experience. “Be a student, not an attendee,” he preached. This perfectly phrased concept of active participation however could also be removed from the educational context and applied in everyday life. As humans, we only possess a hungry curiosity for our interests. Thomas, further expanded that if there is something in your life you know is not right for you, something you can only be an “attendee” of, it might be time to seek another path. On the other hand, if there is something you know you will be a life student of, pursue it and it can take you to great places.

The grand ideas and the ultimate goals do not occur overnight. The journey is composed of small steps, ephemeral bi-products such as sweat, scribbles on a page and even tears which lead to the final destination. Thomas neatly proposed we all write one word we will strive towards and one we will try to limit to allow us to reach our goals at the end of his inspiring speech. Mine are “initiative” and “doubt,” what are yours?

By Sandy Chen, Mandelbaum House Resident.