ORONO, Maine — The Morrow triplets don’t look alike, dress the same way, or even act like they’re related much of the time, and while they earned degrees with different majors and minors, they were identical in at least one key way.
Brother Alexander and sisters Danielle and Jillian of Belfast all came to the University of Maine to choose their educational pathways, expose themselves to challenges and establish the foundation for their professional careers.
“We didn’t take the easy A classes. We really have come here to find a direction and make careers for ourselves,” said Jillian Morrow, the youngest of her siblings by about 30 seconds.
One of the largest graduating classes in UMaine history — 2,467 students, 1,875 undergraduates and another 592 graduate students — took their first official steps along their career paths at UMaine’s 210th commencement in two separate ceremonies at Alfond Arena on a mostly overcast, drizzly Saturday morning and afternoon.
“It’s interesting to see how three people come into college with the same education — I mean we had the exact same courses throughout high school — and yet over four years, we’ve differentiated to the point where I can get a job in a lab, and he can get a job as an art director and she can be a photographer/animator,” said Danielle Morrow, the “middle” child who earned her Bachelor of Science degree in ecology and environmental science with a minor in biology. “I think school’s really worked out well for us in that sense.”
The Morrow triplets were all home-schooled through their high school years. Since they all earned high honors through online correspondence courses offered by a school in California, you could say they were triple A-plus students.
“I didn’t think that was very challenging. The biggest difference between high school and college was college was actually challenging,” said Alex Morrow, who graduated cum laude with a new media degree from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “I got my ass kicked freshman year. I did really well, but I really had to work hard to get through it.”
Jillian graduated from the same school as Alex, only with a degree in new media and a minor in studio art.
“People have told us we’re the only triplets to ever graduate the same year in the University system, but I don’t know if that’s true or not,” said Jillian Morrow, who lived with her sister in a dorm unit just down the hall from their brother’s.
True or not, parents John and Kate, who will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in October, couldn’t have been more proud of their children as they watched them accept their diplomas amid the pomp and circumstance.
“We’re just so pleased to be able to share that kind of moment with others who are parents, to see their children become adults very quickly,” said John Morrow, a health care consultant. “We just had three times the fun.”
Fun has been a constant with the Morrow family, along with learning, experience and travel.
“We lived in England about a year and a half when we were 6 and 7,” said Danielle, who would like to become an environmental consultant or researcher. “Then we came back to Baltimore and began traveling again around age 12 and went to France. That’s really when the home schooling began.”
The Morrow triplets, who were born in Baltimore, estimated that they moved an average of once every three months during their teen years. That made it hard to forge lasting friendships, but all three siblings say they wouldn’t trade the experience.
“I wouldn’t give up our travels for anything. Traveling made us who we are,” Alex said. “People joke that we never experienced high school, but from what I hear, I didn’t miss anything.”
All three siblings agreed that traveling internationally provided invaluable life lessons they couldn’t get any other way, and all three traced their interest in art and artistic talent from exposure to art beyond textbooks, such as actually going to the Louvre in Paris and seeing priceless works of art firsthand.
“As for me, I would keep traveling if I could. Being in one place for four years was kind of stranger for me,” said Jillian. “We consider Maine and Belfast our home geographically, but I always consider home to be the place I am now.
“Home is really where your family is.”
Their family will likely become much more extended, a fact graduation day brought home.
“It hasn’t hit me yet that we’re not going to be together as much because we’re still living together and I have to move us home,” Danielle said with a laugh. “I think it would be nice if I could see you guys fairly often, but at the same time, I have a feeling we are going to be splitting up and that’s OK. That’s what people do, but we’re always going to remain very close.”
Dipesh Gongal, who transferred to UMaine from his native Katmandu, Nepal, two years ago, can certainly relate to remaining close to family, even when separated by thousands of miles.
The accounting and finance major graduated magna cum laude on the same day with cousin Prajesh Gongal, who graduated summa cum laude from the College of Engineering with a degree in chemical engineering.
“It’s always good to have family beside you,” said Dipesh, whose parents were not able to travel from Katmandu to attend Saturday’s ceremony. “They could not come, but I have two sisters and my brother-in-law with some friends here today.
“I didn’t think it would be such a big thing today, but as I got here and listened to people speak, I realized how big it was. I felt a lot of pride.”
Dipesh decided to transfer after listening to sister Nitu Gongal rave about UMaine.
“My aunt lives here in Orono and she encouraged me to enroll here, and they had the program I wanted to do,” said Nitu Gongal, who earned her business administration degree in 2010. “It is very friendly and welcoming for foreign national students like us, and you also get exposed to many other nationalities here.”
There were many reasons for the Gongals to celebrate, as Nitu and husband Prajesh, a physician taking graduate studies in St. Louis, were observing their first wedding anniversary Saturday.
Idahoan native Dana Wright couldn’t match the mileage logged by the Gongals, but her family’s travel itinerary was equally impressive.
“My mom and dad came from Idaho, two uncles came from Minnesota, and my aunt and uncle came here from California,” said the marine science major, who decorated the top of her cap and mortarboard with a pastel outline of a killer whale and waves to help her parents spot her in the crowd. “My older sister couldn’t come because she’s working on her Ph.D. in Portland, Oregon.”
The Black Bears’ varsity swimmer wants to study whales and will get started on that goal quickly as part of a crew on a NOAA ship that will collect acoustic data off the coast of Alaska this summer.
“After that I’m attending the University of Alaska-Fairbanks for graduate school,” she said. “I guess I like to travel.”