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All in the family: Dartmouth's first triplet students to graduate

Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs • Press Release
Posted 06/01/07
Rebecca Bailey • (603) 646-3661

Olivia Willis-Henry will occupy a seat of honor at the June 10 Dartmouth College commencement: at the side of Susan Wright, wife of Dartmouth's President James Wright. It isn't every parent that gets to view commencement from such a choice spot; but, then, it isn't every parent who has three children graduating at the same time.

Ashley, Brittany and Courtney Henry
From left to right: Brittany, Ashley, and Courtney Henry '07s (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

Willis-Henry is the mother of Ashley, Brittany and Courtney Henry, 21, of San Diego, Ca., the first set of triplets to attend Dartmouth College. While numerous sets of twins and individual members of triplets have attended the college, Dartmouth history records no other full set of triplet students before the Henry sisters.

The sisters, who are identical siblings, came to Dartmouth after an education at a small, Seventh Day Adventist parochial school, including a 200-student high school with a senior class of 60 students from which they graduated as co-valedictorians. In addition, in their junior and senior years, they took college courses through the University of California's High School University Program. They said they chose Dartmouth because of its excellent academic reputation, relatively small size, and low student-to-teacher ratio, as well as its strong alumni network, which their mother advised them would be invaluable after college.

The Henrys said they chose a liberal arts college because of the wide vista such schools offer. "All three of us had the same feeling about the choice," said Brittany, a religion major. "I just felt that, before coming to Dartmouth I had a very sheltered outlook. I was surrounded only by other Seventh Day Adventists and didn't get to mingle with other groups."

"I feel it is important to be exposed to a lot of different outlooks, a lot of diversity, people of different ethnicities, different religions and socio-economic groups," said Ashley, a history major. "Dartmouth is a place that lets you do that. It would have been a lot easier on our mother if we stayed in California, but she wanted us to have the opportunity to receive the best academic and social education we could get."

The four years have been a combination of togetherness—they shared a job at Berry-Baker Library and see each other at least once a day, and at any given time at least two of the sisters are rooming together—and individual pursuits. Courtney, an American history major who also fulfilled pre-dental school requirements, spent her sophomore year in the Shabazz Center for Intellectual Inquiry, a residence house focused on intellectual and cultural activities that reflect on the historical and the contemporary experiences of people of African descent. At Cutter/Shabazz, she served as community service director and took an especially active role in its program for mentoring Upper Valley children of color. She also served on the Committee on Standards as a student representative. Brittany helped start a Dartmouth chapter of Alpha Phi, an international sorority, served on the Committee on Standards, and in the Diversity Peer Program.

Ashley served in the Green Key Society, worked in the Alumni Relations office editing its newsletter, and co-chaired STAR Mentoring, a Tucker Foundation program aimed at helping chronically ill teens. In addition were sports and other volunteer programs. During the fall of their junior year, they all studied abroad, Ashley and Courtney in Barcelona, Spain, and Brittany in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was the longest time they were apart, although Brittany joined her sisters in Spain in October to celebrate their birthday.

All three have been active in a campus Christian group, and they also made friends at a Seventh Day Adventist church in nearby West Lebanon, NH. "They have been so good to us, " said Courtney. "One family in particular, the Busls, has always offered to cook for us and invited us to stay at their home on breaks."

History Professor Bruce Nelson was one among several members of the faculty the trio has come to consider family friends. "They have been a delightful presence here, largely because they are such wonderful people," Nelson said of the sisters. "They are deeply committed to each other, and yet, as individuals, they have reached out and become integral members of the larger Dartmouth community. Whether as individuals or acting in tandem, they have enriched my life. I respect them as serious, hard-working students, but I also treasure them as confident, and delightfully energetic and upbeat, young adults."

The sisters said they have tried to follow the advice given them in their freshman year by Religion Professor Ronald Green, who was Brittany's adviser, officially, but became a friend to the triplets and their mother. "He encouraged us to take advantage of what Dartmouth has to offer and, at the same time, not to stray too far from what we know," Brittany said.

After commencement, the Henrys plan to return to San Diego, do some traveling, start some investments, and then spend next year working and preparing to begin professional school, Ashley for medicine, Brittany for law, and Courtney for dentistry.

A top priority is to be close to their mother, a speech pathologist who is divorced from the sisters' father. "I'm happy about my education and what we've done here," said Ashley, "but, in the end, family is most important."

One hope they share is to start a foundation that will help kids whose families can't afford college—particularly "multiples," whose college choices are often curtailed by their sheer numbers, they said.

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