Seeing double: the lives of twins at THHS

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Many students love to use the term “twinning” to compare the similarity of their actions, apparel, speech, or personality to another individual. However, those people might fail to consider “twinning” in its biological sense. At Townsend Harris, several Harrisites and alumni are actually twins, both fraternal and identical.

For fraternal twins and freshmen Emily and Amanda Chu, coming to THHS was an opportunity to continue sharing both their academic and social experiences. “In middle school and elementary school we were never in the same classes but we shared the same group of friends,” explained Emily.

Identical twins Sophia and Maria Mahin of the class of 2014, agreed that attending the same school was best for them, with Sophia explaining that “it is always nice to have someone there for you when you need it” and that being in the same school let them share the same struggles.

Sophomore Denise Obaji was born two minutes apart from her identical twin sister Desiree, who attends another high school. She said that she would love the opportunity to go to school with her twin. “We could participate in events together, join the same sports, even be in the same class!”

Sophomore Noreen Mohsin agreed. “I would have loved for Amber to come to THHS because it’s a great school, but regardless… I’m happy for her where she is now and I know that wherever we are we will both stay close,” she explained.

While some twins wish they could have their sibling at THHS, others see it as an exercise in individuality. As junior Adrienne Cabral put it, it gave her and her twin time to become separate in most things and move away from the constant association of twins as one unit.

Senior Zoe Filopolous, whose twin brother goes to a different school, agrees that space from her sibling can be a good thing. “We are closer because we go to different schools and have our own rooms and give each other space,” she said. “We know each other inside and out. It was good for us to go to different schools because it allowed us to become independent.”

Even though the elementary and middle schools Sophia and Maria attended had policies forcing the twins to split in classes, according to Sophia, they were able to stay fairly close despite their different friends and experiences. “It’s like having a close friend who you have known since you were little. You can confide in each other, and when things get rough, you know that at least you will have someone there to keep you going,” said Maria. Both were captains of the Girls Track Team, so they were able to relate with having the same coach and similar friends.

Twins Denise and Desiree may look similar, but have distinct personalities. “Though Desiree and I have exactly the same features, except I have dimples when I smile, and am a bit taller than her,” she explained. “I am more outgoing whereas Desiree is quieter. I’d be the one to initiate a conversation while Desiree would be the one to wait for a person to talk to her.”

As Zoe explained, she and her twin brother have very different interests and tendencies. “I like sports, he likes video games; he’s obnoxiously loud and messy while I am clean and considerate.”

Emily said that her sister is “quieter, and learns faster.” Amanda agrees, maintaining that her sister is the more outgoing of the two.

While twins of different genders usually don’t get confused for each other, it can be a memorable occurrence for others.

“There have been quite a few cases where people would come up to me and ask me about something that I knew nothing about,” said Sophia. “After being confused for a moment I would figure out that they were looking for Maria and not me.”

As Denise knows, the similarity in her and her sister’s appearance can be good for a joke. “In music class back in the fifth grade, my sister and I thought we would trick our music teacher and switch music sections. I played the clarinet and she played the flute. So I went to the flute section and she went to the clarinet section,” she recalled. “Our music teacher asked used to warm up, and ask Desiree (me) to play an A on the flute. Unfortunately, I didn’t know [how] and played a random [note] other than the A. Then my teacher took a good look at me, and he began to yell, asking why Desiree and I were wasting time. Then he took off a point from our grade and called our parents.”

For Sophia, getting confused for her sister is something to which she’s accustomed. “Even in college when I am not living with her, I still turn around when I hear someone call Maria… I have a habit of turning around when I hear her name.”

Despite all the ups of having a twin, there are certainly downs as well. Like other siblings, there were complaints of the other being annoying and getting into fights often. Adrienne explained that “everyone puts you two together so a lot of the time you’re seen as ‘the twins’ rather than your own person.”

Maria agreed that this tendency can be irritating. “I don’t like it when people refer to us as “the twins” because I feel that the term implies that we are one subject when we are actually  completely different people,” she said. “I want to be seen as my own person, with my own personality and my own set of aspirations. I’ve been grouped with my sister for my whole life but I’ve started to realize that I  want to be seen as an individual.”

Assistant Principal of Humanities Rafal Olechowski understands this problem as a teacher. “With twins, they want to be recognized as individuals,” he said. He also explained the challenge of making sure he is fair to both siblings when he has them in a class. “Because of their closeness and the sometimes subjective nature of grading, grading them is harder.”

           In the end, the only universally-shared fact was that each twin was grateful for their other half.  Sophia concluded, “Friends come and go but siblings will stay with you for life.”