I don’t believe an accident of birth makes people sisters or brothers. It makes them siblings, gives them mutuality of parentage. Sisterhood and brotherhood is a condition people have to work at.
It took me leaving the country for an extended time to realize how much my friends and family mean to me, as well as how arbitrary the world can be without them. When I began to feel an overwhelming sense of longing for my brothers and sister, it scared me. It made me realize that I had a lot of work to do in my sibling relationships, and that I wanted to make things right. It’s not as if I didn’t love my siblings—of course I did! I just knew there was more to learn, and that thought inspired me to write this piece.
I interviewed ten Swatties who make up five sets of siblings, and here are their stories:
When David Sterngold ‘12 and Noah Sterngold ‘14 applied to colleges, the two of them had similar criteria: they both wanted a school with a great academic reputation and a competitive soccer team. One thing they did not plan on, however, was that they would both find their new home at Swarthmore College.
Noah says the brothers got along “extremely well” at times, but also confesses to “periods where we fought a lot.” David acknowledges their fighting, but he attributes it to constructive competitiveness. He says, “Noah and I were pretty competitive growing up. We played on the same teams, took many of the same classes… and I think this is part of what helped us excel academically and athletically.”
As members of Swarthmore’s men’s soccer team, the Sterngold brothers continue to work together. According to Noah, “Playing together for as long as David and I have means we have a great understanding on the field.” David says, “It actually makes us better as players, both because of the competitive aspect and because we think about the game in a similar way.”
John Oh ’13 and Angela Oh ’15 hail from Seattle, WA. At first glance, the Ohs seem like the perfect sibling pair. But on closer examination, one sees the work that has gone into this sibling relationship.
John, as the oldest, always “had to be the responsible one.” Although many siblings would resent this responsibility, John enjoyed it. He recalls making his sister ramen noodles while their parents were away because, according to him, Angela could never “get the amount of water right.” After returning home from his first year of college, John began to look at Angela less and less as a “little sister,” and more as a friend. Angela remembers realizing how much she had “relied on him when he was around” but says she became “more independent when he left [for college].”
At Swarthmore, John and Angela make sure to see each other at least once a week. This is easily accomplished due to their shared love of classical music performance. In social situations, like parties, John does admit to feeling a “bit of Older Brother Protective Syndrome,” but he tries his hardest to overcome his protective tendencies. They both try to trust each other and respect each other’s space.
“[I] saw my sister grow up, and really take ownership of her own life… which triggered in my mind that she is an adult.”
I interviewed Sophie Diamond ’15 before I interviewed her older sister, Sarah Diamond ’13—not because of some well thought-out interview strategy, but because Sarah was incredibly late. When Sarah finally arrived, she shuffled to her seat, exhaled deeply, and made us all laugh. This scene set the tone for the remaining interview, and it became clear that laughter was a large part of their sibling dynamic. According to Sarah, she and Sophie were “not necessarily good friends all the time” as children, “but we laughed.”
Unlike most sibling sets at Swarthmore, Sophie and Sarah had not lived together “for years” prior to this semester. Sarah attended boarding school in Boston and Sophie attended school in France. Sophie says that Sarah’s presence “definitely” influenced her choice to attend Swarthmore. She goes on to say, “I was definitely a pesky kid growing up, but Sarah and I still were very close.” Although they both admit to having wanted a brother, they insist that he would have needed to be a “little brother.” According to Sarah, the sisters’ relationship “was very much based on age” and they each had a specific role. Both Diamonds concede that their parents “put more pressure on Sarah” as the oldest, and that the rules were heavily “toned down for Sophie” as the youngest. “There were huge expectations for me,” says Sarah. When Sarah left for boarding school, however, things changed. According to Sophie, “It was awful.” She was losing her “best friend.” Retrospectively, Sophie admits that Sarah’s absence left room for her to “blossom.”
Naturally, Sarah was “super, super, super excited when Soph decided to come to Swat.” When asked how they stay so close, she says that their secret is laughter: “There are a lot of books, movies, and stuff that we just think are really funny—laughter, and sharing in laughter, fun, play… creating a line of continuity with the things we like to do.”
Harry Apostoleris ’12 and Ana Apostoleris ’13 were home schooled growing up. Harry says, “We have more space now, at Swarthmore, than we ever did at home.”
Often mistaken for twins in their youth, Ana states that they were raised like twins as well. However, the two are now very much their own people. Although Ana seems to dismiss their slight age difference, Harry won’t let anyone forget that he is, indeed, “the oldest!” With two younger brothers, Harry and Ana make up only half of the family’s children. Ana, being the only girl, always wished she “had a sister.”
When it came time to choose a college, Harry wasn’t particularly interested in Swarthmore—even as the child of two alums. It seemed a little too far from home for him. Ana, on the other hand, applied early decision. After the initial shock, Harry became “excited” about his sister coming to Swat. According to him, they were “already accustomed to seeing each other all the time,” so the transition was easy.
In high school, Ana specifically decided not to attend the same school as her brother. Apparently she changed her mind. Now that they are at the same school, they maintain their good relationship by giving each other space. They both agree, “If we saw each other all the time, it would not work!”
Ravi Thackurdeen ’14 and Sean Thackurdeen ’12 decided to take the opposite approach of the Apostoleris siblings. They are reliving their childhood by bunking together in a Parrish dorm room. The two see their decision to room together as a way to reconnect.
When Sean visited home during his first two years at Swarthmore, Ravi noticed a clear difference in him. According to Ravi, Sean became more and more “brainy—wanting to break down and deconstruct everything.” Ravi was enthralled by his brother’s newfound social and political awareness. However, Sean never imagined his little brother would join him at Swarthmore. Yet now, he can’t imagine college without Ravi. If anything, Sean says, “I would actually want more of my family on campus.” One thing that has been important to Sean, however, is making sure that his brother is able to enjoy and “benefit from his own Swat experience without me.”
After more than a year together on campus, the brothers no longer view class year as something that should separate them in their relationship. “We’re the first generation growing up in America,” says Sean. “Family closeness is still such a big part of our culture and family.” Ravi adds that he believes that one cannot operate under the assumption that brothers are automatically going to “be there for each other.” He continues, “Growing up, I took for granted that my brother and my family would always be there, but that’s not true, you have to work at it.” The brothers claim that communication, pushing boundaries, and laughing are the keys to their relationship. “Knowing what’s going on in your brother’s head… talking always brings us closer,” says Ravi. Sean says that he enjoys “being open with [his] brother—its awesome.”
In speaking with these Swarthmore siblings, I learned a great deal about what it takes to build a healthy sibling relationship. Strength, understanding, laughter, space, and camaraderie are all necessary ingredients. I am looking forward to applying these components to my own relationships, and I am hopeful for enriched relationships with each of my siblings in the coming years.
Editors’ Note: This piece was adapted from a personal essay by Kanayo Onyekwuluje ’13. It was edited to become an article for The Daily Gazette, with the understanding that the extended piece would also be posted. You can view the original unedited essay here.