When this woman told students about her adoption, a classmate suddenly realized a 30 yearold truth. On the first day of any class, students can usually count on one thing a roundtable introduction. And this was certainly the case for Lizzie Valverde at Columbia University City in January 2013. But while the autobiographical facts offered are typically fascinating ones, what Valverde revealed proved to be an exception for one student. Indeed, one of her unsuspecting classmates was stunned by what she learned that day. The introductory session for a creative writing class at the School of General Studies of Columbia University proved to be an extraordinary chapter in the lines of two participants. Valverde had only enrolled for the course at the last minute and didn’t have the first idea about what she was to set in motion as she cleared her throat and began to talk. Then the 33 yearold gave her classmates a few facts about herself, with details that would leave one particular female student in disbelief.
Valverde had noticed the woman’s extreme reaction and, after the class had finished, watched as she approached. The two students then spoke further, and a line of questioning aimed at Valverde seemed to make up her interviewer’s mind. The stranger subsequently told Valverde that she had helped solve a 30 year old family secret, and when the woman explained how the news stunned both classmates. Furthermore, when their story went viral, it was the Internet’s turn to be astonished. Columbia University’s School of General Studies is intended to provide an Ivy League education to students from nontraditional backgrounds, and before she walked into class on that fateful day, Valverde’s life could certainly have been said to have followed an unconventional path. She was born on December 8, 1979, in Tampa, Florida, but wouldn’t live there for long. Having been adopted shortly after coming into this world, and her adoptive parents, the Delgados, lived more than one 0 mile away from the Sunshine State in New Jersey. This, Moreover, is where their little girl spent her formative years. But now, in her mid 30s and with a family of her own, Valverde had made an important life decision. She would go back to school and indulge her passion for creative writing by studying it formally.
So, with the help of the School of General Studies, Valverde had enrolled at Columbia University. And while she’d only signed up for the creative writing course minutes before class started, she nonetheless arrived in time for the customary introductions that day in January 2013. Furthermore, as a budding writer, Valverde was more than happy to share the story of her life so far. But as the new student spoke to the group at Columbia’s Kent Hall about herself, including the fact that she’d been adopted, she couldn’t help noticing something specifically. It appeared as though something was seriously wrong with a woman sitting across from her. It looked like she was having a panic attack, Valverde would tell The New York Times in May 2015.
She said. A couple of details that I knew matched up with things that I knew about my biological sister.
Little did Valverde know, however, that the students sat at the opposite side of the table had a very similar life story to her own. Her name was Katie Olsen, and she was a year younger than Valverde. Born with a mild case of cerebral palsy, Olsen had also been adopted at a young age, but as it turned out, her family had lived in Florida for some time before moving to Iowa in the Midwest. On top of that, Olsen had previously spent time delving into her personal past to try and find out more about her biological family, and through Arduous online research, she had uncovered the identity of her birth mother. In the process, however, the inquisitive woman had also found out that she may have had an elder sister called Delgado. From there, Olsen did more online digging about the woman who could be her sister, and as a result, she discovered that her long lost sibling had grown up in the New Jersey area. Olsen also learned that her sister had gotten married and ended up studying in Columbia University, the very same institution she herself was attending. And while Olsen had no idea about what subject, her sibling may have been majoring and she nevertheless felt that she had enough to go on.
So Olsen set about using what she did know to try to track down the woman who might be her sister. Yet although she had reached out via various emails, she had received no responses to her online misuse. It appeared then that Olsen’s quest had sadly reached a dead end. Even if Olsen’s trial and error emails had come to nothing. Though, all that Internet research hadn’t been in vain and the facts she had just learned were just why she had appeared to be in shock in the creative writing class. Indeed, Olsen told The New York Times, what Valverde said fit together with a lot of stuff that she knew about her biological sister instantly. In fact, Olsen was convinced that the woman she had spent so long searching for was now sitting right in front of her. All of the pieces just came together for me, she said later. But Olsen also knew that she had to avoid prying deeper into Valverde’s past too quickly. I worried that she might think I was stalking her, she later admitted. The younger woman sat, turning the issue over in her mind as the class progressed. By the time the session ended, though, her curiosity had overcome her initial instinct to remain silent.
After all, she’d waited years for this moment. I didn’t want to let her get away, Olsen said. I couldn’t go home and sit for a week without getting an answer to this question. So Olson waited until the introductory class was over before she approached Valverde. In the end, though, the younger woman’s nerves took over and the details about her long lost biological older sister and follow up questions came thick and fast.
And then, when she followed up with a rapid fire of more detailed personal questions like, Were you giving up her adoption in Tampa, Florida, to a woman named Leslie?
And as the conversation went on, it was Valverde’s turn to be stunned.
I was like, Whoa, Whoa, Whoa. And then I just paused for a second and the room kind of froze and I just said, Is this real life?
She had known very little about her biological family and entertained few hopes that she may have had any siblings.
I had known that I had had a biological sibling that was born a year after me almost to the day.
A 2015 Columbia University press release quotes her as saying, My adoptive mother was contacted in 1980 about adopting another girl from my biological mother, but she was told the baby may not survive because of complications with her birth and delivery. Belverde further recalled. After that, my adoptive mother never heard anything further, and I thought my sister had died. But thankfully, it turned out she had mercifully not met such a fate. And in fact, she’d been sitting across from Valverde that day in creative writing class, Olsen told her sincerely, I think we’re sisters. According to the New York Times, the only thing fiction aficionado Valverde could say in response was to ask, Is this real life? The two subsequently left Kent Hall together and headed to a nearby bar. There, they spent the next few hours swapping questions and answers over several rounds of drinks. We just ordered drinks and started going back and forth with our lives in biographical details, Olsen told ABC News in 2015.
Like we asked each other all kinds of things, like what do you like chicken wings? I like chicken wings. Do you have a weird Pinky toe? I have a weird Pinky toe.
But of course, it was their mutual passion for creative writing that the sisters have to thank for ultimately bringing them together. Since that day in class, Meanwhile, the two have worked on forging a close bond, teaming up for vacations as well as becoming fast friends on campus. Furthermore, the women have even introduced each other to their respective adopted families. And having left Columbia the year before, Olsen was proud to attend her elder sister’s graduation from the school in May 2015.
A lot of sacrifices were made for me to be sitting where I am right now, and so I never forget that.
Plus, it was a guest of honor in attendance. The women’s biological mother, Leslie Parker Parker, could only Lauderdaughter’s successes, telling ABC News, they’re both amazing, beautiful women and their chance meeting in class. Well, Parker told the New York times that she could only think of one explanation for that event. When she heard about it, I felt like the world was coming full circle. She said yeah.
What she did was amazing. To give us up and to try to give us the best life possible.