For all the artistic triumphs it can boast, one thing Westminster Choir College of Rider University has rarely done is grant degrees to identical twins.
Cherisse Williams ’13 and Cherissia Williams ’13 of Brooklyn, N.Y., not only share genetics, but common interests, as well. The sisters both received the Bachelor of Music in Voice Performance on May 17 at the 84th Westminster Choir College Commencement at the Princeton University Chapel. They are believed to be the first set of idenitcal twin sisters to graduate from the College, and just the second pair of identical twins overall, joining Daniel Simpson '76 and David Simpson '76.
The twins agree that when it came to choosing a college, there was very little debate. “Westminster was our number one choice,” recalled Cherisse. ‘We both knew we wanted to go there.”
The women say that over the course of their childhood, they were exposed multiple times to Westminster alumni who helped sculpt their talents and direction. Their sixth grade music teacher used to tout the Westminster Summer Camp; later, another teacher at LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York recommended the Voice Performance program.
“It was always a great option; we were always going to apply,” said Cherisse, who added that remaining near their New York home was an appealing factor.
Once on Princeton campus, the twins quickly became part of the College’s fabric. Right from the start, they have been part of the audition-based Westminster Jubilee Singers, which performs literature that includes African-American spirituals and folk songs; classical music by African-American composers and others who have composed and/or arranged music of the African-American experience.
They have also been heavily involved in student groups; Cherisse served as the vice president of Circle K, while Cherissia filled the same role with the Black Hispanic Alliance. In addition, they were active members of Sigma Alpha Iota, the women’s music sorority.
Like the vast majority of identical twins, the Williamses are extremely close. And though their decision to attend Westminster was fueled primarily by the academic programming, they admit that going to college together was a priority, as well.
“I think going to school, especially in a different state, would’ve been harder to do by ourselves,” said Cherissia. “I liked that I wouldn’t be going in alone.”
When it came time to choose graduate school, however, the twins decided to take a different tack. Cherissia will attend the Manhattan School of Music, while Cherisse will be four hours northwest at Ithaca College. Still, both will be pursuing master’s degrees in Voice Performance.
“This time around, we decided we would not make (attending school together) a priority,” Cherissia explained. “At the master’s level, in performance, it’s all about finding a teacher who is suitable to you.
“It’ll be different; I’m a little nervous about it,” she continued, as her sister agreed. “Being twins has always been a common conversation-starter,” Cherisse added, noting the built-in icebreaker strangers often use to engage the near-identical pair.
“People think they can tell us apart, but that’s usually true only if we’re together,” said Cherissia, who stands two inches taller.
The sisters will not only take their memories of campus, but they will leave their classmates with many, too. They completed a “memory book” that chronicles the exploits of the Class of 2013 in photos, “literally from freshman move-in day,” explained Cherissia.
They may be going their separate ways in the fall, but The New York Summer Opera Scenes during the first two weeks in July at Christ & St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan will offer an opportunity for the sisters to perform together, at least once more, Cherisse says.
After that, it will be a brave new world, but the Williamses – like all their fellow Westminster alumni – realize that all the world is, after all, a stage.