A TWIN TRIUMPH Identical sisters from Harford County share valedictory spotlight at UMBC


At the Bel Air High School graduation four years ago, Julie Sennello, the top scholar, gave the valedictory speech as her twin sister, Carol Anne, who got one B along the way, sat quietly as salutatorian, the runner-up.

Things will be different this Sunday. The 21-year-old identical twins have earned 4.0 grade point averages and will share the valedictory address to nearly 1,900 fellow graduates of UMBC's Class of 1993 at the Baltimore Arena.

More than 270 graduates will receive advanced degrees, including 58 doctorates of philosophy.

The twins, who are distinguishable on first meeting because Julie wears her hair short, said they will split the speech time and focus on rebutting the reduced expectations of their generation and the need for optimism about the future.

They seem a bit mystified by all the attention they've received since being named co-valedictorians.

"You just end up being who you are," said Julie, who is younger than her sister by three minutes.

Dr. Charles Peake, one of their professors, said, "We've had twins before, but I never came across a pair with their ability and their personalities. . . . They're quiet and modest, self-confident but not at all flashy, and any time I ask a question they know what's going on."

In his "fairly rigorous" money and capital markets course, Dr. Peake said he presented a complex problem asking the students to create a hedging situation for money market investments. Carol Anne and Julie aced the answer -- but by "totally different approaches," the professor said, adding that in his 25 years at UMBC, there have been no more than a half dozen economics majors with perfect academic records.

The Sennello sisters also have been honored as outstanding accounting students and could sit now for the CPA exams, the professor said. Instead, they will attend the Duke University Law School in the fall. The CPA test can wait.

To choose UMBC's valedictorian, a faculty committee interviewed and reviewed the records of the ten graduating seniors who had compiled perfect 4.0 grade point averages. Dr. Angela Moorjani, associate vice president for academic affairs, said the sisters were chosen as co-valedictorians because the committee simply could not separate their achievements.

This time the runner-up is Katie Farr, 21, of Oxon Hill. She earned a 4.0 average as a biology major and is heading for the Johns Hopkins University on scholarship for a doctorate in biology.

Early signs

The twins' parents, Joseph, 45, and Gina Sennello, 43, said they are extremely proud of, but not overly surprised by, their daughters' accomplishments.

When the girls were 3 1/2 years old, said Mrs. Sennello, a supervisor in the pathology department of St. Agnes Hospital, a family friend who was a school psychologist, administered a series of IQ tests which showed their superior intelligence.

"We knew then they were bright children," Mrs. Sennello said.

The family took advantage of all the available Gifted and Talented opportunities. The girls studied Latin in the seventh and eighth grades. As high school freshmen, they took a biology course at Towson State University, and between the junior and senior years they took summer school economics courses at Harvard College.

But the sisters said they have always wanted to be lawyers.

"A few weeks ago I was reading my autobiography, something I wrote in about the eighth grade and in it I wanted to be a lawyer and a judge, and I still do," said Julie, who spent a winter internship in the securities division of the state Attorney General's office. Then she added with a laugh, "Eventually I would like to own some kind of small business."

Her sister doesn't hedge.

"I want to be a lawyer, probably business law," said Carol Anne, who did her internship in the appellate division of the Public Defender's office in Baltimore. "I did a lot of research and wrote some practice briefs. . . . I spent time in court watching trial lawyers at work and at the Court of Appeals in Annapolis."

Always close

The twins were born in Illinois but the family moved several times while they were still young because Mr. Sennello changed jobs in the decorative-metal industry.

Entering different schools can be tough for young children. The sisters coped by drawing closer together.

"They truly are one another's best friends," said their mother.

As they grew up, they grew out of dressing alike, Mrs. Sennello said.

"We didn't see how much alike they really are," Mrs. Sennello said, "until we saw their high school class photo. It was scary. When their hair is the same you can't tell them apart. They fool their father all the time."

In college, the sisters were active in their Phi Sigma Sigma sorority and for a time were in the Student Government Association. Their heavy workload pretty much precluded any other extracurricular activities. The Sennello twins insist that they are not competing with each other for scholastic honors, and work hard to complement their natural ability.

They each have a boyfriend and about eighteen months ago decided to become vegetarians when Julie talked Carol Anne into following her example.

"We were never much as meat eaters anyway," Julie said. "Now we're trying to talk the rest of the family into it."

UMBC's commencement speaker will be Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., a Baltimore native and graduate of the University of Maryland School of Social Work. Senator Mikulski will receive an honorary doctor of law degree.

An honorary doctorate will be conferred on Robert Meyerhoff, local developer, horse breeder and internationally renowed art collector, who has worked with UMBC to establish the Meyerhoff Scholarship Program in science and engineering for black students. The program's first six students will graduate this year.

Peter Lax, a Hungarian-born mathematician and former head of the Courant Institute at New York University, will receive an honorary doctor of science degree. Dr. Lax headed the institute from 1972 to 1980 and now directs the Courant Mathematics and Computing Laboratory.

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