What does being an individual mean to you? On a daily basis, do you think about how you differentiate yourself from others in ways besides your appearance, and how you try to understand others for more than who they are on the surface? I’ve been thinking about this question for what seems like eternity, because for nine months plus my 17 years, I’ve lived with my identical twin sister.
According to people who don’t know us very well, Julia and I look alike, talk alike, and are identical on all accounts. Mostly, people at least try to find ways to tell us apart, which is a mindful gesture, but sometimes this can become slightly offensive. For example, I don’t enjoy being stared down for 30 seconds before a remark is finally made about how I have a bigger nose than she does. Thanks? What’s the polite response to that? I know people have the best intentions when trying to find the keys to what makes us different, but really, they aren’t just topical. Growing up being called the “wrong” name by friends and teachers made me all the more motivated to find what made me unique, because trying to use my appearance was NOT going to work. We may have nearly identical genetics, but besides that, I couldn’t be more different from Julia.
For people who do know us separately from one another, it’s almost difficult to argue that we’re twins. We have completely different personalities, excel at different sports, and have vastly different hobbies. Finding our identities apart from each other at Randolph, though, has been a journey.
What I mean is this: when Julia and I came to Randolph freshmen year, our relationship was contentious. We fought and sniped at each other constantly. I saw moving to Randolph as my opportunity to become someone totally separate from Julia. I wanted to make my own friends and be known as my own person, and in the process I ended up alienating her and even making jokes at her expense to seem funny.
Instead of holding on to the one thing in my new surroundings that was familiar, I pushed her away, trying to prevent being seen at the same time to avoid the embarrassment of being asked, “Which one are you again?” by acquaintances or teachers, to a chorus of nervous laughter by our peers. But even that didn’t stop people from calling me by her name.
I’ve found just as much meaning in the opportunities I didn’t choose that identify who I am as the ones I did.
Imagine that: I was trying everything possible to set myself apart, and still I failed. After going on like this for almost all of freshmen year, I realized that the more we built each other up and actually spent time together, the more others could see our separate personalities and understand that our differences far outweigh our similarities. Now, you’d be hard pressed not to find us sitting in the library together during Break, about a minute away from being kicked out by Ms. Kuhn, or eating lunch together.
By acknowledging and embracing the fact that we are similar in one way, I’m free to show the distinctly unique things about me that I want the rest of the world to see.
The most important part of who I am is my identity in Jesus Christ. To Him, I’m not a package deal with my sister, I’m one-of-a-kind, completely unequalled. Daily, I’m grateful for His saving grace and the chances I get to incorporate Him into all I do.
Another way I differ from Julia is that I’ve chosen to figure skate, not just because I love the feeling of freedom it brings me or because I love cold weather, but because at skating I’m known only as "Lauren," not "Lauren and Julia."
I’ve also chosen to participate in Model United Nations, which is more than just a club, it’s a chance to make friends and travel to conferences based on the shared interest of international diplomacy. I’ve found just as much meaning in the opportunities I didn’t choose that identify who I am as the ones I did. I love my advisory, and although we didn’t choose to be together, we’ve grown together as more of a family than just an advisory.
Another thing I had no say in was, as a 5th grader, my mom’s decision for me to play soccer for a season, and I was capital-H horrible, but I liked playing because it was something that was just my own. Through these activities and groups that are just “mine” I’ve found the things I’m passionate about, the things I’m not so good at, and what makes me unique. I’m grateful for all of these opportunities where I can just be myself.
I’ve made being a twin sound a bit difficult, so now I’ll tell you all the cool parts of having 99.9% of someone else’s DNA.
While we were growing up, we experienced everything together: learning to talk, to walk, how to ride a bike (which I’m not any good at to this day). We made up our own language that we used at the dinner table to trick our parents, but quickly forgot it because we made it too complex. We’ve also seen just about every Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen movie, because to us they are the pinnacle of iconic twin-ness, mid 2000s style and all. And every time we were asked “Do you have telepathy?”, we had predetermined answers ready and waiting for what we were “supposed” to be thinking, so that when we each whispered what the other one was thinking in the person’s ear, they were amazed.
Just as a disclaimer, no, we cannot read each other’s minds, I can’t feel her pain, we’ve never switched places, at school or anywhere else, and we do not dress alike unless, of course, our mom buys us matching Christmas pajamas.
It can also be humbling to have a twin, because she’s there for all of my mistakes.
When I used crayon to draw on our living room wall at age 3, Julia was there to let Mom and Dad know I was the culprit. When I hit a tree and knocked my side view mirror off my car in the driveway a month after getting my license, Julia was there to celebrate the fact that I was first to have gotten in an accident, as minor as it was. She’s there for the good moments, too. We moved to Randolph together, we’ve gone on two Interim trips together... in these ways, she’s my human journal, better at telling someone who I am than a ghost-written autobiography.
What I have learned is that to me, being an individual means being authentically myself, identifying and embracing what makes me one-of-a-kind and using that to present myself and my interests passionately to others.
Going to college next year without a twin in tow will probably be the strangest part about moving away, because it will be the first time that we won’t be attending the same school. Until this year, we’ve had at least one class together all of high school, which reminds me: a special thanks to Mr. Hoppe-McQueen, Mr. Green, and Mr. Hillinck for having the patience to teach us in the same class. I’m not sure how you did it. Attending college will also be the first time that no one calls me by the wrong name for the first few months after meeting me, which will be a welcome change.
I’ve spent the past 17 years trying to answer the question I posed to you at the beginning of my speech. What I have learned is that to me, being an individual means being authentically myself, identifying and embracing what makes me one-of-a-kind and using that to present myself and my interests passionately to others. Being a twin has made me aware of the fact that I’m constantly looking for ways to get to know people for more than just what they present on the surface. Don’t be afraid to show others who you are besides what we see on the outside, and try to understand more about someone than what meets the eye, even when it requires extra effort. What makes us individuals shouldn't be about appearances, it should be about the meaningful parts of our identity on the inside, what we hold dear, and how we use that to connect with others and have gratifying relationships.