In January of 2013, Lizzie Valverde, a student at Columbia University in New York City, began taking a creative writing class. As an older undergraduate student — she was in her early 30s when she decided to go to college — the experience was already something nontraditional. Columbia runs something called the “School of General Studies” for students like Valverde; per its website, it was “created specifically for returning and nontraditional students seeking a rigorous, traditional, Ivy League undergraduate degree full- or part-time.” By and large, the students it attracts are either already well-established but are looking to do more — in Valverde’s class, she dreamed of being a writer, and this was a good first step toward that goal.
But on the first day of that creative writing class, Valverde ended up with a lot more than she bargained for. Another student, Katy Olson, approached her, asking her questions that no stranger should know. Where she was born, her mother’s name, etc. — the stuff that only stalkers and those trying to break into your online accounts would truly care about. Valverde was, understandably, taken aback.
But Olson wasn’t Valverde’s stalker. She was the sister Valverde didn’t even know she had.
On that first day of class, many of the students introduced themselves to their new classmates, sharing some basic details about their backgrounds and perhaps even a fun fact. As the New York Times reported, “Ms. Valverde, who had registered for the class just minutes before it began, introduced herself and told the class, among other things, that she had been adopted as a child and was raising a young daughter of her own. She also disclosed what she described as her goofy obsession with the Olsen twins.”
The Olsen-twins thing aside, Katy Olson heard some items that seemed familiar. Olson, per the Times, “had recently learned about her own adoption and biological family, [ . . . ] including information gleaned through online searches about her birth mother’s identity as well as hints that the woman had had an older daughter who seemed to be a student at Columbia.” But Olson’s attempts to further track down her long-lost sister had hit a dead end — until a woman matching that description appeared across the room.
When Olson approached Valverde after class, she was hoping to verify her suspicion that the two were indeed sisters.
For Valverde, this was initially hard to believe — the older of the two, she never knew she even had a sister. But as she told Today, the pair had an “unspoken familiarity” which demanded more investigation. Per Today, the two “went to a local bar, and over buffalo wings and beers pieced together their past,” and confirmed that they were in fact, long-lost siblings.
Olson graduated Columbia in 2014; Valverde followed a year later, with Olson in attendance. But that wasn’t the only surprise family member at the event. The pair’s biological mother, Leslie Parker, came up to New York for the weekend as well. As ABC News reported, that event connected the final dots. While Valverde had met her birth mother earlier, this was the first time that Parker had met Olson since giving her up for adoption.
From the Archives: One of These Things Just Isn’t the Same: The borderline-creepy similarities of two long-lost twins.