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Vickroy: New Lenox twins double the joy, double the success

Twins Matt (left) BrandMitchell 22 display certificates they received after earning prestigious Bronze Tablet honors from University Illinois.  |

Twins Matt (left) and Brandon Mitchell, 22, display the certificates they received after earning the prestigious Bronze Tablet honors from the University of Illinois. | Donna Vickroy/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 23, 2014 6:41AM



They have been best friends since childhood.

They helped one another through school, played every kind of sport along the way and now are big soccer fans.

Not only did they attend the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana together, living in the same dorm and then apartment, helping each other study and proofreading each other’s work, they both graduated with the school’s prestigious Bronze Tablet honors.

Indeed, their parents have much to be proud of. But perhaps the bigger story is that these lifelong buddies are brothers. Twin brothers.

“He’s always going to be my best friend,” Brandon Mitchell said, pointing to Matt, who nods in agreement.

Sure, they goof around and tease one another about which one had to take the ACT twice before getting a 31, same as his brother, but the 22-year-old identical twins insist there is no real sibling rivalry.

They’ve got the track record to prove it.

Not only did they room together, peacefully, all four years at U of I, they even “covered” for each other in social settings. If someone yelled across the quad, “Hi, Brandon” to Matt, Matt would simply say “Hi” back.

“I didn’t want Brandon to come off as a jerk,” Matt said.

Though they never intentionally misled people, sometimes a mix-up was unavoidable. Take the time they both landed jobs at Assembly Hall. One worked inside as an usher, the other outside as a gatekeeper. Every now and then, a supervisor would think he spied the inside worker hanging outside and yell at him to get back to his post.

Their biggest fear now is that they soon will have to live separately. You see, they both are involved in serious relationships. And, as fate would have it, both of their girlfriends are pharmacy students, and both attend Midwestern University in Downers Grove.

“We’ll probably end up living next door to each other,” Brandon said.

Matthew and Brandon Mitchell were born “old souls,” said Jean Mitchell, their mother.

“I used to get compliments at the mall when they were little because they’d hold the door open for 20 people. I’d have to say, ‘OK, guys, it’s time for us to go,’ ” she said.

They were in the same classes in grade school but separated during middle school. Both graduated in the top 40 at Lincoln-Way Central High School in New Lenox.

Jean said she never pushed the boys to do well academically. She set very simple, clear rules early on: They weren’t allowed to hurt each other’s feelings, and homework came first, then play.

“The drive to do well came from within,” she said. “I wasn’t allowed to open the report cards until they saw them first. By high school, they were so driven, I didn’t have to say anything.”

Brandon said his mom gave them a lot of freedom.

“We had very clear boundaries, but she treated us like human beings, as if she was talking to some other person’s sons,” he said.

Matt said, “She didn’t yell at us — that wouldn’t have worked anyway — she’d just sit us down and talk to us.”

“We’ve always had high expectations for ourselves,” Brandon said.

“Especially in college,” Matt said. “If I was going to be in school, paying for this, I was not going to skip a class. I never understood why kids did that. You’re just losing money.”

Of course, they’re bright, but both Brandon and Matt said they achieved Bronze Tablet honors mostly because of their hard work and their mutual support. Matt edited Brandon’s honors thesis, “Oh, about 40 times,” he said.

And there have been setbacks. Brandon still is stinging from the B-plus he got in public speaking his freshman year. But Matt can top that: He received an F on his first English paper but battled back to eke a B-plus out of the class.

“All along, we both have been there for each other,” Brandon said.

“And now our names are inscribed next to each other — forever,” Matt said.

Since 1925, Illinois has etched the names of the students graduating in the top 3 percent of each college onto huge tablets that are displayed in the main library.

As proud as she is of her sons’ academic achievement, Jean said, “I am more proud of the men they’ve grown into.”

Not only do they look out for each other, they keep an eye on their younger sisters, Cindy, 19, and Jamie, 12.

Their father, Tom Mitchell, said, “We’ve been lucky. All four of our kids are just good people.”

He said in addition to having lots of family time, which included game and movie nights, the family’s New Lenox home always has been a hangout for the kids and their friends.

“What more can a parent hope for than knowing their kids will look out for each other?” he said.

Tom credits financial sacrifices for some of their good fortune, too.

“It makes it easier now knowing it was worth it for Jean to stay home with them,” Tom said. “We’ve never had keypads on our garage. Someone was always home for them.”

Matt, who graduated with a degree in advertising, and Brandon, who has a degree in psychology, are poised to enter their father’s business, Capitol Plumbing.

“It’s what I’ve always wanted, right from the beginning, for them to be with me. But they had to decide for themselves,” Tom said. “They’ll be fourth-generation plumbing contractors. And the best part is they chose it.”

Since graduation last month, Brandon and Matt have been learning the ropes.

“It’s eyeopening to see how hard he works, and yet he still has fun,” Brandon said. “We’re doing some estimating now but will eventually learn the trade. There’s definitely a learning curve.”



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