By Bob Skolnik
The second and third ranked students in the Riverside-Brookfield High Class of 2020 have the same last name. That's because Claire Kawiecki, who ranked second in the graduating class, and Danny Kawiecki, who ranked third, are twins.
The Kawieckis were just one of seven sets of twins, an unusually high number, in the Class of 2020.
Three of the sets of twins have been classmates since kindergarten at Ames School: the Kawieckis, Nathan and Sebastian Sanchez and Cameron and Grant Winkler.
All seven sets of twins are fraternal, not identical twins. And five of the seven sets of twins are boy/girl twins.
Seymone and Shalah Russell are the only girl/girl twins, while the Sanchezes are both boys. The other twins in the class were Danielle and David Abalde, Michael and Nadia Ranieri and Adrian and Joanne Vera.
Both Claire and Danny Kawiecki graduated from RBHS without ever getting a grade lower than an A. Claire's grade-point average was 0.041 higher than Danny's, because she took one more Advanced Placement course than her brother.
The two took a staggering combined 25 AP classes between them. They are so close academically that they each received the same score, 34, on the ACT. Ever since sixth grade, they have closely tracked each other's grades and neither wanted to fall behind the other.
"I definitely think that we're competitive, especially with test scores, but it's more in a supportive way," Claire said. "I would never want to see him do worse, or significantly worse, and I don't think he'd want me to do worse either but we push each other."
Claire and Danny Kawiecki will both be attending the University of Illinois in the fall. Claire is planning on majoring in bioengineering, while Danny plans to study aeronautical engineering.
The only other twins going to same college next year are the Veras, who both will attend Triton.
While the Kawieckis are so close academically, perhaps no set of twins in the Class of 2020 are as close emotionally as Nadia and Michael Ranieri, although all the twins share a close emotional bond.
"Me and Michael are the closest twins I know," said Nadia Ranieri.
Their mother says that Michael and Nadia, her youngest children, have always been very close.
"They're each other's best friends; they really are," said Kathy Ranieri, who is the village clerk of North Riverside.
Their senior year the Ranieris had four classes, counting lunch, together. They sat together at the same lunch table and sat next to each other in class whenever they could.
"If we're allowed to choose seats, we always sat next to each other," Nadia said.
Both are pitchers. Nadia, a lefty, was a standout softball pitcher and hitter going 16-3 as a junior and hitting .516. Michael, a righty, was mostly a relief pitcher.
Both had their senior seasons cancelled when schools were shut down this spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but both will play ball in college. Nadia is following her older sister, Alivia, to Augustana while Michael is going to College of DuPage.
Nadia and Michael are so close that during their freshman year, when Nadia was making new friends, her new friends got the wrong idea about the boy Nadia was always talking to at school.
"All of my friends that I met thought me and Michael were actually dating at first, because we were literally always together," Nadia said.
Most of the other boy girl twins had similar experiences when people got the wrong idea about their relationship. Many people didn't even know that some of the twins were twins.
"I didn't know David and Danielle [Abalde] were twins. I just thought they were brother and sister," said Sebastian Sanchez. "Looking back that's kind of dumb because, I mean, they're the same age and in the same grade."
If Nadia and Michael Ranieri are maybe the most similar and closest, Cameron and Grant Winkler may be the most different twins.
"Yin and Yang," Grant Winkler says.
"We're basically night and day as far as interests go," Cameron said.
Grant is outgoing and very funny. Everyone seems to know him. He has a big personality and is usually the life of the party. Cameron is shy, introverted, except when she's on stage, and studious. Grant loves sports while Cameron is into music and drama. And while Grant was an average student, Cameron took many AP classes and is going to study mathematical statistics at Purdue University.
Growing up, Cameron was often best known as Grant's sister, but she came into her own at RBHS, starring in numerous plays, playing the French horn in the band and being elected band president her senior year.
She also won second place in a state wide musical composition contest. Grant says that he couldn't be prouder of her, noting all the hard work and long hours she put in.
The two never had a class together at RBHS, have very different friend groups, and rarely even saw each other at school.
At RBHS, Grant Winkler and David Abalde became best friends. They will be roommates in the fall at Illinois State University, where Grant will study cybersecurity and David will study business and education.
As they got to know each other at RBHS Grant and David discovered that they had a lot in common.
"It was kind of funny because we were in the same boat: separated parents, a [twin] sister who is a high overachiever while us two are average," David Abalde said.
The Abalde and Winkler twins also are the only kids in their families.
Like Cameron Winker, Danielle Abalde is on the shy side and a top student. She is going to Georgia Tech in the fall to study computer science.
Their brothers are fun-loving, outgoing, social and very secure in who they are. They are proud of their sisters even as they recognize that they are different from them.
It's not always easy to be a twin.
"Lots of comparisons between me and her within the family and the school, that was something I always had to live with," David Abalde said.
Adrian Vera is more outgoing than his twin sister, Joanna, who is quieter and more studious.
"Adrian has a lot more friends than I do," Joanna Vera said. "I'm the more quiet one, so people just know me as Adrian's twin."
The Sanchezes and Russells are both quite close which often comes easier for same sex twins.
"Having boy-girl twins is drastically different than having same sex twins," Christine Kawiecki said.
Many thought that that Nathan and Sebastian Sanchez were identical twins, especially when they were younger. Their mother dressed them alike until they were in third or fourth grade.
"It was just easier for me to dress them the same," Lizette Sanchez said.
But, the twins' pediatrician told her to stop doing that so they would be seen as distinct individuals and not just twins.
The Sanchezes and the Russells were strong students at RBHS. Both Sanchez boys play the violin and the Russell girls both were editors for the Clarion, the RBHS student newspaper, with Shalah Russell serving as co-editor-in-chief last year.
Academic achievement seems to be a twin thing. Nine of the 14 twins made the A Honor Roll in the third quarter, meaning they had GPAs of 4.0 and above. Two more, David Abalde and Michael Ranieri made the B Honor Roll.
The Russells are known for being independent thinkers who are not hesitant about speaking their minds. Both Seymone and Shalah Russell have spoken at recent protests against racism and police violence. They are also known for their distinctive and interesting sense of fashion.
The Russells, who like the Ranieris went to Komarek School, said that there are definite advantages to going to high school with your twin, especially during those anxious first few weeks of freshman year.
"You already had a friend walking in, you already had someone you knew," Shalah said. "Over the years it was just convenient, especially for stuff like your locker or if you needed something you could just meet back up. If you ever forgot a gym shirt you always had someone else's you could borrow. It's just nice to always know that you have someone you can count on moving to a new school and new environment."
Nathan and Sebastian Sanchez agree.
"You can always count on one another," Nathan Sanchez said. "To get work done, support each other in case you're falling behind.
Shalah Russell, who says that Seymone is more outgoing than she is, is headed to Washington University in the fall, while Seymone is going to the University of Pittsburgh.
Nathan Sanchez is going to study computer science at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, while Sebastian is going to be a pre-med student at Macalester College. The two boys are quite close.
"They wake up in the morning and the first thing they do is look for each other," Lizette Sanchez said, noting that the twins have separate bedrooms at their Riverside home. "They wake up just talking to each other like they haven't seen each other for ages."
For all the twins except the Veras, next year will be the first time they live apart. All but the Kawieckis and Veras are going to different schools.
Most of the twins are anxious to move on to a new, more independent life, but acknowledge that they will miss their twin. But they all know how to keep in touch.
"I'll just text him," Sebastian Sanchez said.