Sunday, June 17, 2018
Education

Triplets and their family must split for graduation ceremonies

They call each other best friends. They finish one another's sentences. Sometimes one will have a song stuck in her head, and then another will walk by singing it.

But, "it's so funny to even think of them as triplets," said friend Megan Bridges, 18, "because they're so different."

As Pinellas County graduations begin this week, Anna, Peter and Marina Stamas, all 17, will collect their diplomas from three different high schools: Palm Harbor, East Lake and Tarpon Springs.

Early on, their parents were advised to put them in different classes to help the triplets become more independent. By high school, all three chose to continue down different paths.

Going to separate schools, though, led to an unexpected dilemma: two graduations at the same time.

Their father, John Stamas, said he feels terrible.

"It's gut-wrenching to not be able to go to all the kids' graduations when they've been through so much and done so well. To miss a graduation is hard," he said. "But it's just what we have to do."

The triplets' parents have always focused on doing what they had to do for the kids, even if it meant separating them at an early age.

As toddlers, they were told not to return to a preschool, because, together, they were more confident than the other kids and started taking over.

At another preschool, when the teacher asked Marina and Peter to do something, Anna would say, "I'll do it for them."

The teacher recommended that the kids be put in different classes. From then on, they have always been separated in school.

"Other twins and triplets tend to rely on each other too much. They're not as independent," said Rhonda Stamas, their mother. "This way they have their own sets of friends and sense of who they are."

The triplets were born minutes apart, Anna first.

"She's definitely the leader," her mom said.

Friends and family say Anna has always been more mature and responsible. She applies herself more in school, her dad said, and takes care of the other two.

"She's like the mom figure," Bridges said.

Anna went through the rigorous International Baccalaureate program at Palm Harbor University. Many of her classmates and teachers had no idea she was a triplet.

Peter, the boy born between two girls, is laid-back and "more go-with-the-flow," his dad said.

Peter chose the engineering program at East Lake High School. In his senior year, he worked more than 20 hours a week at Publix.

Marina fits the youngest-child stereotype, John said. She is usually the last one out of the house, the last one to class, the one most likely to ask for five more minutes.

She is more outgoing, said friend Amanda Oliveira, 18. "She can make a friend in two seconds."

Marina did the veterinary program at Tarpon Springs High School. She was involved in student government, and as one of two students given the school's Principal's Choice award, Marina will speak at her graduation.

"She's a very caring person," said Clint Herbic, her principal. "You can see that look of care and compassion on her face."

On a typical Saturday night, Bridges said, Marina is the one making plans, Anna is doing homework and Peter is probably playing video games.

Raising triplets may seem tough to some, but John said it seemed easier than raising three children of different ages. When the kids were little, they played soccer together, and later they helped each other with homework.

"They're all doing the same things when they're the same age," he said. It would be harder "if you had to worry about getting one to elementary school, one to middle school and one to high school."

Not that the logistics were easy.

When they started high school, Anna and Peter walked to the same bus stop, where Peter was picked up first, then Anna. Marina had to be dropped off at school.

In the afternoon, their father, mother or stepmother helped pick up the teens from sports practices and after-school activities.

"Everyone was playing taxi driver until we got cars," Anna said.

All three teens played sports. Anna played softball, Peter ran track and Marina played flag football.

And although they went to rival schools, they attended one another's games and events and cheered their siblings on.

But with three graduation ceremonies in two days, they won't all be able to cheer each other on when they're handed diplomas.

Peter's graduation is Wednesday, and the whole family will attend. But Marina and Anna graduate Thursday night at almost the same time.

Their mother and Peter will go to Anna's graduation, while their father's side of the family will go to Marina's.

It made sense to split up that way because Marina is a third-generation graduate of Tarpon Springs High School. Her father attended, and so did her grandfather, who moved to the town from Greece with his family almost 90 years ago.

After graduation, the trio will go their separate ways again.

Peter wants to major in engineering at the University of South Florida, and Anna and Marina are pursuing pre-med tracks at the University of Florida and Florida State University.

Their mom said she thinks splitting up the triplets in school since pre-K has helped them prepare to separate later in life.

They're going off to college, she said, and they're not hesitant or scared or worried about missing each other.

The triplets said they would miss having each other for emotional support and impromptu hangouts, but all three agreed about going to different universities:

"It's not a big deal."

Alli Langley can be reached at [email protected]

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