Three degrees, one celebration for UW triplets

May 15, 2013

by Susannah Brooks

Having triplets in the family means getting used to three of everything — including three separate commencement ceremonies at the same university.

Photo: Stephanie, Kyle and Ashley Verhasselt

Stephanie, Kyle and Ashley Verhasselt

Photo: Jeff Miller

All four children in the Verhasselt family, of Freedom, Wis., are first-generation college students at UW-Madison. Triplets Stephanie, Kyle and Ashley will receive their undergraduate degrees this weekend.

The three made a conscious decision to end their college careers together. Still, they've followed their own distinct paths from the start.

"A lot of times, people are taken aback — saying, 'Why didn't you tell me you were a triplet right away?'" says oldest sibling Stephanie.

"It's not really a line you drop the first ten times you meet somebody," adds Kyle, second in line. "They're always shocked when they see us all together — we look a little alike, but at first glance you couldn't notice."

Kyle and younger sister Ashley arrived in Madison first. Coming from a town near Green Bay only slightly larger than UW-Madison's entire freshman class, their new separation — Ashley lived in Cole Hall, Kyle lived in Elizabeth Waters — suited them just fine.

Even so, they take time to stay connected. The siblings (including younger brother Adam, a UW-Madison junior) eat meals together once or twice a week and enjoy tailgating together during football season. Parents Sandy and Mark Verhasselt "live for any excuse to come down here," says Stephanie.

"We can still run into each other if we want, but we're all in completely different fields," says Ashley.

"It's amazing how big the university is, but how small it can feel," says Kyle. "You can walk down the street and chances are you'll run into somebody you know right away. I like that aspect."

Unsure of her college plans at first, Stephanie chose to complete general coursework at UW-Fox Valley. While volunteering in her spare time, she discovered a love for helping others. She has interviewed for case management positions working with children and families, hoping to stay close to home in northeastern Wisconsin or the Milwaukee area.

“It’s amazing how big the university is, but how small it can feel. You can walk down the street and chances are you’ll run into somebody you know right away. I like that aspect.”

Kyle Verhasselt

Transferring schools two years ago allowed Stephanie to finish her degree in UW-Madison's social work program. But it also reunited her with her favorite roommate: her sister Ashley. (Kyle lives just three blocks away.) Stephanie is most comfortable around family and friends, a subject of gentle ribbing from her sister and brothers.

"I got to be an only child for a year once my younger brother Adam moved here, so that was fun," says Stephanie. "Whenever they would come home, I was happy to see them, but when they had to go back ... I got a little sad."

"A little emotional," the others add, laughing.

Kyle is the most outgoing, serving as de facto spokesman. Majoring in real estate, he spent most of his time in the School of Business. A summer internship at G.E. Capital in Norwalk, Conn., led to a full-time position as a risk associate; he's excited to live in the greater New York City area.

"I'm more of a sociable person," says Kyle.

"The Chatty Cathy," adds Ashley.

From the start, Ashley followed the plan she'd envisioned since high school. A biology major, she will attend the Medical College of Wisconsin this fall to become a physician.

"Right now I'm thinking of family care," she says. "I really like the continuation of care, when you see people repeatedly versus seeing them once before they're gone."

Having four kids in college at once hasn't always been easy, but their family has always given them space to make their own decisions.

"None of them would ever say, 'We want you to go to Madison,'" says Ashley. "But when I was applying, this was the only school I wanted to go to. It's got really strong science research, which is helpful in getting into medical school, so that was key."

"I applied to other Big Ten schools, and Marquette, but Wisconsin is just a special place," says Kyle. "When you come down and visit, you can tell right away that you could fit in; once you graduate, there's that special feeling to say you went to Wisconsin. Even out on the East Coast last summer, people acknowledged that right away."

In the end, the family bond brought three very different siblings together once again.

"It's a cool thing to experience," says Kyle. "You can't complain when you have three kids graduating at the same time."