Seeing Double

Four in 1,000 births result in identical twins; 10 of 188 applicants win the Austin Chapter scholarship. And few lose a parent at age 15. But chance has nothing to do with Tatum and Willa Jolink’s drive.

Ask Willa and Tatum Jolink about the differences between them, and they list only three.

Willa loves Italian food; Tatum prefers Mexican. Willa always has a plan; Tatum is more spontaneous. Willa wants to be a pediatrician; Tatum is studying psychology.

“We are individuals, of course, but as best friends all our lives, we’ve shared almost everything,” Willa says. “Sometimes I’ll look across a room at her and see that we’re even sitting in the exact same position.”

Another thing the Jolink twins share is the Texas Exes Austin Chapter scholarship. Nearly 190 Austin-area incoming UT freshmen applied for the merit-based scholarship, and only 10 recipients were anonymously selected.

“We had no idea that they were related,” says Kelly Sadler, the chapter’s scholarship chair. “When we evaluate the applications, all the names are removed. But Tatum and Willa both stood out from the pack as all-around outstanding students, with top grades and strong leadership activities.”

The Jolink twins were superstars at Austin’s Anderson High School. Both graduated in the top 2 percent of their class; both played lacrosse and held leadership positions in the Spanish Club. They are National Merit commended scholars and have volunteered all over Austin, from Casa Marianella (a shelter for immigrants) to Blue Lapis Light (an aerial dance company).

They grew up not far from the UT Tower, but attending the University was never a sure thing. “At first, we wanted to go out of state,” Willa says. “But then we got into Plan II, and that was a huge deciding factor. Plan II made a huge campus feel small.”

Visiting the Plan II Honors program and meeting other admitted students, the two say, sealed the deal. Paying for school was a big concern, however. Footing two tuition bills at the same time is a struggle for almost any family—but especially for the Jolinks.

Tatum and Willa’s father, Gray, BA ’70, JD ’74, was a bankruptcy lawyer in Austin. He helped people in financial crisis regain stability in their lives. In her winning scholarship essay, Willa describes his knack for putting clients at ease: “I frequently saw a client in his waiting room anxiously glancing around, uncomfortable and panicked … After my dad brought them into his office, however, those seemingly endless jitters evaporated. I loved waiting to watch a completely different person emerge out of his office with a beaming smile.”

In 2008, when the twins were high school freshmen, Gray died unexpectedly, and the Jolinks faced their own financial crisis. Tatum and Willa’s mother, Kathy, BA ’74, struggled to pay for basic needs, let alone save for the twins’ tuition.

“We knew we had to get scholarships if we wanted to go to UT,” Tatum says. “That was a reality.”

While their peers were worrying about prom dresses, Tatum and Willa were grieving. But their commitment to excellence in and out of the classroom never wavered.

The Austin Chapter scholarship is a one-time award of $1,000—a mere drop in the bucket toward the ever-rising cost of college. Still, the Jolinks say it makes a big difference.

“Every little bit helps,” Willa says. “And it makes us feel proud to see our hard work rewarded, to know that alumni are counting on us.”

And what if only one twin had won the scholarship?

“We just aren’t competitive with each other at all,” Tatum says. “Never have been. But it’s fun that we both won this one. I know our dad would be proud.”


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