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How A Classroom Icebreaker Led This Woman To A Life-Changing Discovery About Her Past

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classroom icebreaker - katy olson lizzie valverde delgado columbia sisters reunite

The first day of class can be a tumultuous time for anyone just starting out at a new school. Meeting new classmates can be overwhelming and intimidating. But for Katy Olson, a simple classroom icebreaker exercise would end up breaking a decades-old family secret wide open. From then on, her life would never be the same.

1. An Unlikely Story

Katy Olson was born in Tampa, Florida. But this Florida girl spent most of her life in the Midwest, growing up in Iowa. She was raised surrounded by love from her adoptive mother and father, but her life as a child was not exactly easy.

katy olson lizzie valverde delgado columbia sisters reunite

Facebook/Katy Olson

Katy spent much her her childhood learning to manage her mild case of cerebral palsy, which included a few medical procedures. Nevertheless, Katy’s parents described her as always maintaining a driven, passionate and curious attitude. No one had any idea that Katy’s curiosity would eventually lead her to a life-altering discovery that would turn all that she’d known upside down.

2. Start Spreading The News

Like many young adults in the United States and around the world, Katy had big dreams of moving to New York City when she got older. And, eventually, she ended up doing just that, packing up her stuff, leaving Iowa, and starting a new chapter of life in the Big Apple.

katy olson lizzie valverde delgado columbia sisters reunite

Facebook/Katy Olson

And just like many young adults with dreams of moving to New York City, Katy was pursuing a specific one of her own. She wanted to be a stand-up comedian and an actor. And as it turned out, Katy started making successful strides toward this dream and performed in comedy shows and a few clubs. But after a while, Katy started to have a change of heart that would end up changing more than just her career ambitions.

3. Writing Her Own Story

With all of the storytelling that Katy was doing during her stand-up comedy routines, she reignited a passion she’d always had: writing. She had always wanted to be a creative writer, so this new change of heart left her more ready than ever to finally pursue her long-held dream.

katy olson lizzie valverde delgado columbia sisters reunite

Facebook/Katy Olson

The only problem was that Katy was already in her 30s, and she needed to find a writing program that was not only respectable, but that would also allow her to balance school with her already established lifestyle in New York. She decided to apply to a few programs and see what happened. She could have never guessed, though, that her studies would not only teach her about writing, but also about an old family secret.

4. New York, New School

Katy applied to a few creative writing programs, and was ultimately accepted into Columbia University. Elated with her acceptance, she enrolled in the program as a nontraditional student. Then, she did what any new student would do as a next step, and she enrolled in her classes for the next semester.

katy olson lizzie valverde delgado columbia sisters reunite

Facebook/Katy Olson

One of those classes was WRIT W3680, a creative writing class that focused around literary reporting. With a semester full of scheduled classes, she could have never guessed that this course in particular would lead to some shocking reports about her own upbringing. The big first day would be unlike any of the first days in any of her other classes.

5. First Day Jitters

In January 2013, Katy packed up her book bag and made her way to Columbia University. She had no idea that her life was about to change. For her, it was just a normal first day of school, filled with awkward meetings, fresh syllabi, and more than one classroom icebreaker.

katy olson lizzie valverde delgado columbia sisters reunite

Facebook/Katy Olson

When it came to ice breaker activities, the literary reporting class was no exception. The professor asked the students to go around and tell the class about themselves. A fellow classmate named Lizzie, who had only signed up for the course minutes prior, was among the first to speak. But as soon as she started speaking, Katy was shocked by what she heard.

6. Breaking The Ice

Across the classroom, Lizzie Delgado introduced herself to her new classmates. Lizzie explained that she had a young daughter of her own, who she was raising with her husband. She told the class all about how she had grown up in Bergen County, New Jersey. Like Katy, Lizzie was also in her 30s, and was pursuing her lifelong passion for writing.

katy olson lizzie valverde delgado columbia sisters reunite

Facebook/Elizabeth Estella

Lizzie was still getting to know the room of classmates, most of whom had not even introduced themselves yet. As she continued to tick off a list of fun facts about herself, she started to notice that one of her classmates was apparently having a pretty strong reaction to what she was saying. And that classmate was Katy.

7. Meet Lizzie

Despite her classmate’s reactions, Lizzie finished sharing her personal story. Lizzie shared that she was kind of obsessed with the Olsen twins. She mentioned that she had taken college classes twice, and worked as a bartender and as a personal assistant. She told the class about her close-knit family, her love for her adoptive parents, and her father who worked as a television news producer.

katy olson lizzie valverde delgado columbia sisters reunite

Facebook/Elizabeth Estella

But the more she shared, the more she realized that her classmate across the room was still acting a little strangely. She could have never imagined what her classmate was thinking as she sat on the other side of the room almost unable to hold it all together. But soon she would find out exactly what was happening.

8. A Shocking Discovery

Across the classroom, Katy was quite literally freaking out. Lizzie jokingly told a news reporter years later that “it looked like [Katy] was having a panic attack.” And it was true, Katy was shocked by everything she was hearing, because what she was hearing sounded a lot like the details of a woman she had read all about.

katy olson lizzie valverde delgado columbia sisters reunite - classroom icebreaker

Vimeo/Columbia University News

Katy was in her own head putting together dots that she had been trying to connect for years. It was when Lizzie mentioned that she was adopted that everything just clicked for Katy. But what Katy was thinking would be life-altering, and seemingly too good, and too shocking, to be true.

9. Family Matters

Between her comedy and acting gigs, along with now taking classes at Columbia University, Katy started doing a little bit of extracurricular research on the side. While she was completely happy and content with her adoptive family, what Lizzie said had made her start wondering more about her own biological family.

katy olson lizzie valverde delgado columbia sisters reunite

Facebook/Katy Olson

Her search for answers about her biological mother led her down an Internet rabbit hole. While she was having some trouble finding out details about her birth mother, she did run into an unexpected revelation as she sifted through her research. There seemed to be another woman who made up a hugely important piece of Katy’s life story.

10. An Unknown Past

Katy was so invested in finding out more about her own past and her biological family, that she became dedicated to learning as much as she could. During her research, she found out that her biological mother might have had another child just before giving birth to Katy.

katy olson lizzie valverde delgado columbia sisters reunite

Facebook/Katy Olson

Katy’s curiosity led her to look up some details about her potential biological sibling – a sister. Through social media she ended up finding a woman who she was pretty sure could be the girl she was looking for. While she spent a few months trying to reach out, she never heard back and assumed her search was coming to an end. Luckily, it was only the beginning.

11. Could It Be?

Katy only knew a couple of details about her potential biological sister’s life. She found a few photographs of a little girl on her social media page, and assumed that the girl was her daughter. From publicly available information, she was able to figure out that the woman grew up in New Jersey.

katy olson lizzie valverde delgado columbia sisters reunite

Facebook/Elizabeth Estella

Katy was also pretty sure that the woman in question was attending Columbia University, although Katy had no idea what program she was enrolled in. And still, Katy was not even sure that this woman online was her biological sister. But she wasn’t fairly certain the woman was her classmate, Lizzie. Even with all of the information she found online, and what Lizzie had said about herself, Katy couldn’t be sure if her premonitions were simply a huge mistake, or something else.

12. What Would You Do?

Katy sat for an entire, excruciating class hearing from her other classmates. She had to sit through all of the first day announcements, test schedules, and handouts, all while wondering what to do about the woman sitting across the classroom.

classroom icebreaker - katy olson lizzie valverde delgado columbia sisters reunite

Vimeo/Columbia University News

“I was worried that she’d think I was stalking her,” Katy said in an interview. But there was something more pressing than her fear, and that was her curiosity. “I didn’t want to let her get away. I couldn’t go home and sit for a week without getting an answer to this question,” Katy said. So she devised a plan.

13. A Memorable First Impression

Katy decided the best thing to do in this strange situation would be to just go up and approach her new classmate. In the moment, she did not know what to say, but she knew that she had a lot of questions that would help her verify whether or not this classmate was who Katy thought she was.

classroom icebreaker - katy olson lizzie valverde delgado columbia sisters reunite

YouTube/Inside Edition

Katy walked up and immediately started to fire off a list of questions to a very confused Lizzie. Lizzie would later recall that she had no idea what was going on, and that Katy started asking her things like “Were you given up for adoption in Tampa, Florida, to a woman named Leslie?” Lizzie later told reporters: “I was like ‘woah, woah, woah!'” She had no idea what life-changing news was coming.

14. Sister Act

Half polite and half just confused about this prying new classmate, Lizzie was considering answering all of Katy’s rapid fire questions. But with so much anticipation for this moment, Katy simply could not contain herself. Instead, she blurted out “I think we’re sisters.”

classroom icebreaker - katy olson lizzie valverde delgado columbia sisters reunite

YouTube/CBS News

To say that Lizzie was taken aback by the statement from this stranger in her class would be an understatement. All Lizzie could say was, “Is this real life?” In that moment, “the room just kind of froze,” Lizzie would later recall. But the list of emerging questions would only continue to grow for the two women. 

15. Playing Catch-Up

Of course, when someone approaches a mere stranger saying they are sisters, anyone would need to get some confirmation before they go ahead and trust such a big theory. So Lizzie began asking some questions herself. Together, they compared what they knew about their biological mothers.

classroom icebreaker - katy olson lizzie valverde delgado columbia sisters reunite

Facebook/Elizabeth Estella

They both described to each other the details they had gathered based on birth certificates and information that their adoptive parents gave them. And just like Katy had suspected, it seemed that they were very likely sisters. They had both been put up for adoption in Tampa. As they spoke, Katy had no idea that Lizzie was still hiding some family secrets of her own.

16. Sister, Sister

Both Lizzie and Katy could not stop talking to one another as they realized their incredible connection. So what does one do when they find out that their long-lost sister had accidently ended up sitting in the exact same classroom as them? Head to the bar to keep on talking, of course.

classroom icebreaker - katy olson lizzie valverde delgado columbia sisters reunite

YouTube/Inside Edition

Katy and Lizzie started to get to know one another over drinks. They were both still in disbelief that they had found each other. The sisters asked each other the essentials: Do you like spicy food? How do you feel about avocados? Do you have a particularly odd pinkie toe? But after all the small talk, Lizzie was about to reveal something that Katy was not expecting.

17. A Little Digging

Katy began to ask some questions about her biological mother when Lizzie started sharing some details that she knew about the mystery woman. To start, Lizzie confirmed that their biological mothers’ name was actually Leslie Parker and that she lived in Florida. There was more.

classroom icebreaker - katy olson lizzie valverde delgado columbia sisters reunite

Vimeo/Columbia University News

Their mother seemed to have lived a pretty difficult life. Lizzie began to look into her biological mother when she found her last name on an old birth certificate. It turned out that their birth mother, among other hardships in her life, had once survived an attack by an infamous serial killer. But that was not all that she had to share.

18. Parent Trap

Katy had spent months hoping to meet her biological mother. And that’s when Katy would find out another surprising aspect of her long-long sister’s life. Lizzie revealed that she had, in fact, already met her biological mother before she had met her sister. So she advised Katy to do the same and reach out to their mother.

classroom icebreaker - katy olson lizzie valverde delgado columbia sisters reunite

YouTube/Inside Edition

Lizzie passed along her contact information to her new-found sister. Katy was not yet ready to get in contact by phone, so she decided to reach out via email. Still, Katy had no idea how her message would be received, or if she would ever hear back from her biological mother. While Lizzie recalled her own meeting, the memories jogged another pretty important detail about her biological family. She knew that she absolutely had to tell Katy.

19. Recalling A Call

With all of this new information about a family Lizzie never really knew she had, some memories started to come back to her. Specifically, she remembered a phone call her adoptive mother received years ago. “My adoptive mother was contacted in 1980 about adopting another girl from my biological mother,” Lizzie said.

katy olson lizzie valverde delgado columbia sisters reunite

Facebook/Elizabeth Estella

She continued to recall that the person on the other end of the line gave her adoptive mother a few more details. Her mom “was told that the baby may not survive because of complications with her birth and delivery.” Lizzie’s mother never heard back and assumed the baby had passed away. Instead, that mysterious baby was sitting right in front of Lizzie at a bar. But there were more siblings besides Lizzie whom Katy would soon learn about.

20. The Search Continues

Soon thereafter, Katy’s wait ended when her birth mother ultimately reached out in response. Over email, the story behind her adoption started to become more and more clear. Her biological mother explained that she put both Lizzie and Katy up for adoption when she was a teenager, as she was unable to take care of them the way she’d hoped. But that wasn’t all.

katy olson lizzie valverde delgado columbia sisters reunite

Facebook/Katy Olson

Katy learned that her biological mother later gave birth and raised two sons, making her a half sister to two boys whom she’d never known about. With all of these new siblings, Katy was desperate to meet her biological family and learn more about her mother. And pretty soon, the perfect opportunity came.

21. The Big Day

Amid all the unfolding family drama, Lizzie and Katy somehow were still able to keep their heads in their books and keep up with their studies. All of that hard work was finally about to pay off for Lizzie, who was set to attend her graduation ceremony and complete her creative writing studies. But it was not only going to be a big day for Lizzie.

classroom icebreaker - katy olson lizzie valverde delgado columbia sisters reunite

Twitter/@Estellaskeeper

Lizzie’s graduation day was also set to be a huge day for Katy, because she was about to meet her birth mother for the first time. With all of the celebrating around graduation, the sisters thought it would be the perfect time to have a family reunion. With no idea how the actual meeting would go, they both went into commencement day hoping for the best.

22. From Writing Stories to Telling Them

Years had passed before the anticipated reunion took place with their biological family. Behind the scenes, the two had focused on first getting to know each other. We can imagine that having a long-lost sister means there is a lot to catch up on. Having formed their own bond, they were finally ready to take the next step.

classroom icebreaker - katy olson lizzie valverde delgado columbia sisters reunite

YouTube/ABC News

After keeping their story among only family for a while, the newfound sisters finally started sharing their account publicly and with the news media. They had spoken with the New York Times and a few television stations. And all of those reporters would be there to witness the big day when Katy finally planned to meet her biological mother.

23. Meet Mom

Graduation day is an emotional day for any family, but for this family the emotions ran even higher. As Lizzie walked across the stag to receive her diploma from Columbia University, Katy was undoubtedly beside herself as she found herself sitting next to her biological mother, Leslie. And afterwards, Leslie told reporters exactly how she felt.

katy olson lizzie valverde delgado columbia sisters reunite

Vimeo/Columbia University News

“They’re both amazing, beautiful women,” she told reporters. Leslie explained that she could barely believe that after all these years, her two daughters had found each other as classmates. “It felt like the world was coming full circle,” she said. Leslie could have never imagined her daughters would find one another, and could have never imagined how their relationship would be today.

24. Never The Same

After a heartfelt reunion and a pretty crazy day filled with interviews and diplomas, Lizzie and Katy went back to their regular lives. The only difference was that their lives would never be the same now that they’d found their long-lost biological family members.

katy olson lizzie valverde delgado columbia sisters reunite

YouTube/Inside Edition

Today, Lizzie and Katy are as close as any sisters can be, despite the years of not even knowing each other for most of their lives. They spend holidays together as one big, happy family, and have met each other’s adoptive parents. But through it all, they have never lost sight of the sacrifice their biological mother made to give them these astounding and successful lives.

25. A Mother Knows

The pain of giving a child up for adoption is unimaginable, and Leslie Parker surely felt that when she had to part ways with two of her daughters. She hoped for years that she would one day be able to reconnect with her girls. And once she did, she saw that her sacrifice had been worth the hardship. Seeing her daughter receive her diploma from an Ivy League school left her nothing less than awestruck.

katy olson lizzie valverde delgado columbia sisters reunite

Vimeo/Columbia University News

“I’m glad I chose to have them and gave them the chance at life,” Leslie explained in an interview. “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual, but if you don’t believe in a higher power, you would when you heard their story,” she said.

Sources: The New York Times, The Washington Post, Telegraph

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