Lizzie Valverde, now in her 30s, was taking a literary reporting class at Columbia University, finally pursuing dreams of becoming a writer starting with a degree at the university.
But on the very first day, the professor asked everyone to tell a story about their own lives, something stranger than fiction.
Valverde began by talking about her own childhood. She was adopted and it was a closed adoption, managed by an attorney whose files were disposed of when she died, “amidst accusations of black market adoptions.”
But as she told her story, there were little details here and there like dates, locations, and circumstances, that classmate Katy Olson couldn’t help but perk up and latch on to. As Valverde went on in sharing her story, pieces of a puzzle Olson had been grappling with all her life “instantly all came together.”
And then after class, Olson stopped Valverde, asking her a slew of other questions like whether her birth mother had another daughter, whether her birth mother was from Tampa, and so on.
The answer to every question was “yes.”
Then Olson dropped the bombshell: “I think I am your sister,” she said.
“The room just kind of froze,” Valverde remembered.
“Is this real life?” she asked Olson.
And it turned out they really were sisters, one year apart in age.
“We were sitting right across from each other,” Valverde remembered.
Valverde had known that her birth mother had another baby, but had thought the baby died. Olson had known that she had an older sister out there somewhere, but had been searching for her under the wrong name (Valverde’s maiden name is Delgado).
It was pure coincidence that they both wanted to pursue a writing degree in their 30s and ended up in the very same university course together.
The story made sense to both of them, and immediately after the class the two went to catch up on the three decades they’d missed together.
“And we just ordered pitchers of beer and just started going back and forth with our lives and biographical details,” Olson told ABC. “Like, do you like chicken wings? I like chicken wings. Do you have a weird pinkie toe? I have a weird pinkie toe.”
Olson revealed that she had met her birth mother before, though Valverde never had.
Their birth mother, Leslie Parker, was very young when she had the girls, and did not have an easy life. She knew she would not be able to give her girls the life they deserved, so she put them up for adoption.
In an interview, she revealed that she had struggled with poverty, substance abuse, and had even been attacked by a serial killer, having a close brush with death. Later, she went on to have three sons who she raised herself.
“I wanted to give them the best possible future they could have and it wouldn’t be with me,” Parker told CBS in an emotional phone call. “As sad as it is to give up your own children, but I felt that’s the best that I could give them, to let them go, so they had a chance.”
The day before Olson and Valverde were to graduate from Columbia, Valverde spoke to her birth mother over the phone for the first time. The two finally met on graduation day.
The sisters understood their birth mother’s difficult decision.
“What she did was amazing,” Olson said. “To give us up and to try to give us the best life possible.”
“A lot of sacrifices were made to be sitting where I am right now,” Valverde said. “And I never forget that.”