Beth Donnelly, ’18, sat in Friday recitation, except it wasn’t actually her class, and no one noticed she didn’t belong there. They didn’t even question her presence.
Beth is one of a pair. She goes to Lehigh with her identical twin sister Jenna Donnelly, ’18, and on that particular Friday, Jenna was out of town. In a class that takes attendance, Beth was easily able to make sure Jenna got credit for being there, even though she wasn’t. It also helped that they’re both chemical engineering majors.
Going to college with a sibling is not a totally uncommon experience at Lehigh.
“It’s really nice coming into school having a best friend already,” Jamir Connelly, ’19, said.
Jamir is at Lehigh with his identical twin, Jamal Connelly, ’19.
For the Donnelly and Connelly twins, coming to Lehigh together meant already having a best friend. For Cristina, ’17, and Sara, ’19, Fuertes, they found a best friend in each other.
Growing up, the Fuertes sisters weren’t that close. For the two years that Cristina was at Lehigh before Sara, they hardly kept in touch. They said they maybe talked five times on the phone during that time. Now they’re inseparable.
“The time we have classes is the only time we don’t spend together,” Sara said.
As Cristina prepares to graduate this semester, both sisters expressed how much they’ll miss each other. Last semester, Cristina went home before Sara, and they were apart for a week and a half.
“It was so hard,” Sara said.
But these siblings didn’t always plan to go to college together or necessarily want to attend Lehigh with their siblings.
Yehia, ’17, Youssef, ’19, and Sarah, ’20, Awad are all at Lehigh together, but Sarah almost didn’t apply simply because both her brothers were already at Lehigh.
“I decided that it was kind of dumb of me to not choose a school that I love just because I didn’t want to go to school with my brothers,” Sarah said.
Yehia and Youssef both applied early decision and Sarah applied regular.
“I started the trend though,” Yehia said jokingly.
The Donnelly twins made the decision to come to Lehigh independent of each other. Because they have similar interests, though, they applied to all the same schools.
“We didn’t really want each other to influence our college decision making,” Jenna said.
Beth said even when they were narrowing down their final decisions, they didn’t talk to each other about it.
The Connelly twins wanted to go to school together, but it wasn’t a deciding factor in their ultimate choice to come to Lehigh.
The transition to college is difficult. For many students, it’s their first time living away from home. That transition is made easier for students who come to school with their sibling.
“I feel like it’s almost like I have a piece of home here with me,” Jenna said.
The Fuertes sisters are from Guatemala, and Sara said it was really helpful to have family at Lehigh with her. Cristina helped her adapt to the new culture.
Sarah said having her brothers here in case anything bad happens is the best part about going to school with them. They’re also able to share a car.
“I love having these kids here,” Yehia said.
All of the siblings agreed that it’s much easier on their parents, as well.
Sometimes, having a sibling at Lehigh isn’t easy though.
The Donnelly sisters agreed being at school together makes them more dependent on each other, when usually college is a time to grow independently.
Jenna and Beth have been living together since their freshman year, share the same major, are both in Phi Sigma Pi, a national honors fraternity, and they even ended up working for the same company for their co-op. Jenna said people always pair them together.
While the Connelly brothers participate in many of the same activities as well, including sharing a major, they do not live together like Jenna and Beth. However, Jamal said he spends the weekends at the Creative Vibes house, where Jamir lives.
For twins like Jamir and Jamal and Jenna and Beth, people often mix them up or think of them as one individual.
“I definitely learned to wave at anyone that smiled or waved to me because they probably know Jenna,” Beth said.
Both Connellys said the same.
Cristina said having her younger sister at Lehigh “feels like I have a parent around sometimes.”
Before Sara came to Lehigh, Cristina was on her own without anyone checking up on her, but having her sister around brings her back to reality, she said, and she often feels like the younger sister.
Siblings have to learn how to transition into adulthood together as well.
Cristina and Sara had never gone out together, and they worried about what it would be like with their sister around.
“But we did it,” Cristina said.
The Awad siblings take family pictures whenever they’re all together and send them to their mom, and if they don’t take a picture someone else will. Yehia said it was definitely weird at first, but now it’s funny.
Youssef and Yehia are both in Sigma Chi fraternity, so they see each other all the time. They are also both industrial systems engineering majors. Sarah, however, doesn’t see her brothers as often as they see each other.
The Fuertes sisters also spend a lot of time together. They are both Orientation Leaders, marketing majors and share the same friend group. While they don’t live together technically, Sara would often sleep at her sister’s house, especially during the first semester of her first year at Lehigh.
“It feels like I’m married because now I only sleep on one side of the bed,” Cristina said. “I’ll have to ask her to stay over because I feel weird not having anyone there.”
Sara said one time Cristina hit her in her sleep accidentally.
“She was 100 percent asleep,” Sara said.
The Awad siblings, Fuertes sisters, Connelly and Donnelly twins all agree that the college experience would not be the same without their siblings.
Jamir said, “I couldn’t imagine going through college without (Jamal).”