Tia and Tyra Smith have done just about everything in tandem at Lindblom Math and Science Academy in West Englewood.
The twin sisters have aced 12 Advanced Placement classes each. They’ve worked on numerous stage productions at school and across the city. They’ve just finished polishing up transcripts with flawless 4.0 GPAs.
This fall, though, they’re heading their separate ways on full-ride scholarships to elite universities — but not before they share the stage once again as co-valedictorians at graduation this Saturday.
Just don’t call them a package deal.
“Because my name is Tia, a lot of people will just assume her name is Tamera, because of ‘Sister, Sister,’” she says with a roll of the eyes, referring to the popular 1990s TV series.
“People don’t necessarily care about getting to know you, or knowing your name,” Tyra says of life as a twin. “Some people will just know you as the twin. When you’re in a classroom environment, and people don’t bother to learn your name, that’s not the best.”
Tyra also shoots down the notion of twin telepathy, among other twin cliches.
“I don’t know where people get that idea,” she says.
“It’s not a telepathic thing, but we know what the other is thinking,” Tia interjects, noting that a quick glance across the classroom can confirm “we’re already on the same page. Our reactions are the same.”
“Sometimes we might have the same class but in different periods, and the teacher will say, ‘Your sister just asked the same question earlier today,’” Tia says. “We think similarly a lot of the time. But we’re strong students individually.”
“I feel like Tia understands me the best in the world. That’s the best thing about being a twin,” her sister says.
That special connection has other perks as well, like when they shared classes and could keep one set of textbooks at home in Chatham and one at school, instead of lugging the volumes back and forth.
“Not everyone can do that. It’s very helpful,” Tia says.
And a strong community of friends and faculty at Lindblom — one of Chicago Public Schools’ top-rated campuses, recently ranked the 11th best in Illinois — have made the effort to get to know them, they say.
“The people who do know us, they can tell the difference, and they know us as individuals,” Tia says.
It’s where they’ve developed a love for theater after seeing a school production of “Grease” when they started as seventh graders at Lindblom. They’ve now gone on to take part in the Steppenwolf Theatre’s Young Adult Council and the Goodman Theatre’s Bandle Young Critics programs, getting a hands-on look behind the scenes from fundraising and event-planning to stage-writing and critiquing — all while taking on full course-loads of five rigorous AP classes last year.
“I was like, ‘No, I’m not approving this. That’s not a stress level I’m comfortable with,’ ” Lindblom guidance counselor April Weathers recalls. “What did they get? Straight A’s.”
During a recent visit to the school at 6130 S. Wolcott Ave., Tia’s light blue glasses offer the slightest contrast to Tyra’s red ones.
The sisters all but talk on top of each other, egging one another on, finishing each other’s thoughts, offering up tidbits the other might have forgotten.
Their whiplash banter only slips up when they talk about the hint that helps tell them apart: Tyra’s purple T-shirt and and Tia’s blue one, each emblazoned with the name of their chosen college.
This fall, Tyra heads to Northwestern University to study economics, while Tia goes east for Duke University to study statistics. Both also plan to major in theater — with both on full-ride scholarships.
They’ve only ever spent one full day apart, the sisters say, and that was when Tia went to visit Duke earlier this spring.
“I feel like we each made the best decision for ourselves,” she says.
“I feel like we’re going to be fine,” Tyra says. “We don’t know what it’s going to feel like yet.”
But that’s something they’ll figure out later, the sisters say. Because they always do.
Until then, they’ll be working on their valedictorian speech, which they opted to write and deliver together.
“Graduations are already long, and who wants to wait around for three speeches or more?” Tyra jokes.
“I think we’re successful because of ourselves and because we’ve worked together throughout all these years,” Tia says. “I think it makes sense to do this together.”