Lawrence and Lamont Flowers stand out in a crowd. Rail-thin and topping six feet, the identical twins share a shy streak and a strong bond that’s easy to spot.
At Henrico High School in the suburbs of Richmond, VA, they were polite, clean-cut Eagle Scouts making average grades. In short, they were performing far below their potential.
But something happened between then and now. in May, the Flowers brothers graduated with high honors from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) with bachelor’s degrees in their respective fields of biology and accounting. This fall, the 22-year-old twins will enter graduate programs at the University of Iowa (UI), a Big Ten school, where, they beat out nearly 30 other top candidates for full university-financed fellowships that will see them through their doctoral studies.
“They went from Cs in high school to magna cum laude in difficult fields,” said Dr. Quincy L. Moore, the Flowers’ academic adviser at VCU. “They recognized their own skills and decided the biggest competition was going to be against themselves.”
“These are very talented students,” added Joe Henry, assistant to the dean of the UI’s graduate college. “They’re very disciplined and highly motivated. These are students who have the drive and hunger to go on to graduate school and the strong foundations academically to do so.” VCU president Dr. Eugene P. Trani says the Flowers’ accomplishments “are a source of enormous pride to the whole community. They’ve done wonderfully well at VCU and we’re proud of them. “I’m sure they’ll do wonderfully well in graduate school and I look forward to trying to recruit them back to VCU as faculty members when they get done with their experiences at Iowa,” he said recently.
Models of Discipline
“Lamont and Lawrence are models of discipline and hard work for all of us at VCU,” is the Way the president of VCU, Dr. Eugene P. Trani, described them. “We are extremely proud of them and proud to have been a part of their education. They reflect so well the quality and variety of interests and goals among our students.”
Yet ask the Flowers about their academic transformation and they modestly credit their parents, church and each other for their success. The twins’ father is a computer technician. Their mother returned to college after her sons began elementary school and earned her degree in accounting in 1981. So close are these rarely separated twins that they share a room, each other’s opinions, and the habit of finishing each other’s sentences
“It seems to me,” said Lamont, “that academic success can be defined as preparation, planning and discipline. Anyone, I’m convinced, who adopts those three goals can be successful.” “Anyone can be successful,” Lawrence said, picking up his brother’s thought, “but you have to work for it. “Education was always a priority. Our parents instilled that in us from the get-go,” added Lawrence. “But in high school, frankly, we didn’t put forth the effort.”
Looking to the Future
All that changed when the Flowers arrived at VCU. There, they met Moore, who, as director of VCU’s Office of Academic Support, became the Flowers’ counselor, mentor and friend. During their early months at VCU, Moore helped the twins recognize that college was their entry into adulthood and that they must develop focus and drive to succeed in life.
“We talked about people understanding their responsibility and obligations,” Moore said of his work with the Flowers, both individually and in group programs offered by his office. “We have an obligation to do what we can to help students. They have an obligation to take advantage of that.” The Flowers brothers were ready for a new experience after high school, added Moore. “They realized they didn’t stretch themselves. They realized they should leave yesterday behind and look to their future.”
Many students, said Moore, fritter away opportunities in college or fail to gain the study habits needed to succeed. Others become lost in the rigors of college academics and blame themselves for failing, not realizing that it is their preparation that’s inadequate — not their abilities or talents.
“Too many students fade away,” said Moore, adding that universities must do more to help students. “But we do intrusive advising and counseling. We can’t just wait for students to come in once a semester.” Those efforts quickly paid off with the Flowers twins. “They listened, they recognized things, they were always there,” Moore said. “By their sophomore year, they started to do things.”
‘This is Our Job’
The Flowers turned studying into a science and viewed college as “the beginning of our careers” — even donning identical business suits for class. “People used to ask us why we wear ties,” Lawrence said. “But this is our job …. We want to send that message in our dress and attitude.”
“Especially in our attitude,” added Lamont. “That’s most important.” Integral to their academic regimen is the elaborate system they developed to chart when every term paper is due and when each exam will be held. From that, they make color-coded schedules detailing precisely when and how they will complete the work needed to meet those obligations. Much of that work is done even before the semester begins.
“We’d go get the syllabus before the semester,” said Lamont, who already is tackling his reading list for UI, as well as preparing to take the national exam to become a certified public accountant. “Time management skills [are] the key to academic success,” added Lawrence, who continues his work on several research projects.
Managing their time meant giving up many social activities. Weekends are instead reserved for their most intensive studies. School breaks are for getting a head start on the academic work ahead. The Flowers, though, do make time for basketball. Their resumes also are rich in extracurricular and altruistic activities, including: tutoring other college students, assisting professors with research, giving motivational speeches at Richmond K-12 schools and serving as assistant scoutmasters at their church Boy Scout troop — the one headed by their dad.
The twins regimen has paid off in GPAs just shy of perfect 4.0s. Indeed, by their junior year, Moore said it was clear that the Flowers have what it will take to fulfill their dream to become professors themselves. “I did a workshop on demystifying graduate education. I wanted to let them know what’s out there,” Moore said of his students. “The twins were shocked there were programs that would pay for graduate school and do so much for them.”
Soon after that workshop, Moore took his students to a grad school fair in Washington, DC. Rather than just fill out recruiters forms, Moore advised the Flowers to have personal portfolios ready to hand out, instead. “You always have to be one step ahead and do something extraordinary,” Moore advises. “So often, it’s a lack of information that hinders us.”
Moore also contacted UI, his alma mater, and its graduate-level Opportunity Fellowship Program, about the Flowers. While several nationally ranked research universities were trying to woo them, UI went a step further and sent plane tickets so that the twins, who’d never before flown could tour the Midwestern school.
“Because of how competitive they were, we wanted to send a signal about how serious we were about them,” Henry, the UI official said. UI’s efforts were rewarded on the Flowers visit in March. The twins, in turn, were a big hit on the campus they’ll soon call home. “They dress alike, they speak alike–they practically say the same things at the same time,” said Henry. “They’re real gentlemen–the kind of students who are a throwback to an earlier period. Faculty and other grad students commented about how refreshing it was to have them, they’re so focused and serious about their educations.”
As they wind up their tutoring jobs at VCU this summer, the twins credit Moore with teaching them how to succeed. Moore, in turn, concedes a special fondness for the Flowers since he, having twin brothers himself, is one of few people who can easily tell Lawrence and Lamont apart. But the Flowers, while extraordinary in their success, are typical of the students Moore assists at VCU. Their only advantage, he said, is having each other.
“They bounce things off of each other…and look for answers together,” said Moore. “We really can’t compete,” added Lamont. Said Lawrence, “We motivate each other.”
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