State’s 1st quintuplets say goodbye to FHS

  • The van Tol quintuplets, from left, Willem III, Meghan, Isabella “Izzy,” Ashley and Sean are pictured in their caps and gowns prior to Commencement ceremonies at Farragut High School Sunday, May 22. - Photos submitted

  • Parents of the van Tol quintuplets, Willem Jr. and Shannon van Tol, are joined by female quintuplets, from left, Ashley, Isabella “Izzy” and Meghan. - Photos submitted

Among 473 seniors in the Class of 2022 — including 12 sets of twins and one set of triplets — Tennessee’s first surviving quintuplets made history Sunday, May 22, when they graduated from Farragut High School.

The van Tol siblings — Sean, Willem III, Isabella (Izzy), Meghan and Ashley — reached this milestone achievement with the love and support of their parents, Shannon and Willem Jr., their Catholic faith community and their extensive school community, which has included both private and public school experiences.

“St. John Neumann (Church) has been so helpful for me especially,” said Shannon, who praised her children’s middle school experience there, as well.

“They exponentially prepared my children for high school,” she added. “I can’t say enough about them, but we’ve been very happy with FHS, too.

“So many people in our community do everything they can to make things better, and we have certainly seen that at Farragut.”

Attending FHS four years ago was the first time the siblings were exposed to public school, as they had attended Sacred Heart Elementary. Looming college costs for five factored into the decision, said Shannon, who is an attorney, while Willem Jr. is a business intelligence analyst for Children’s Hospital of East Tennessee.

While Willem III and Sean “were apprehensive, within a couple of weeks, they had made friends, and the transition went really, really well,” she added.

“Then, when Dr. (John) Bartlett came (just prior to the van Tols’ sophomore year), he tried to bring people closer together and make it more of a community, too,” Meghan said.

The siblings have shared several activities, but also found their own niches. All played tennis at one point, with Izzy remembering the year “our parents spent $2,000 on uniforms and fees, then we didn’t get to play because of COVID.”

Izzy, Meghan and Ashley were on the high school swim team. Megan also ran track and pole vaulted.

The siblings were born at 33 weeks on Jan. 14, 2004, in Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center following a pregnancy that surprised their parents.

“We were shocked to learn of the high-risk pregnancy and incredibly blessed that things went as well as they did,” Shannon said, describing their early childhood as “busy, and sometimes chaotic, but I have loved every stage of being their mother.”

FSRMC regularly threw birthday parties for the quints during their early childhood, and area media attention has ebbed and flowed since their birth.

“It feels normal to us,” Willem III said.

While life certainly will be changing for the family, their mother said, “We haven’t done anything to specifically prepare for the adjustment we’ll have when they all leave for college, but we’ll be fine. It can’t be a bigger adjustment that the one we had 18 years ago when we added five infants to our quiet house of two.”

Willem III, Sean and Izzy are headed to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, this fall, while Meghan and Ashley will be roommates as they attend Samford University in Birmingham.

All have part-time jobs, which will take them through the summer.

“It will be weird, but it will be nice,” Sean said of the upcoming changes. “I know we will all still see each other, even if we aren’t in the same place.”

“Willem and I have done our best over the last 18 years to try to prepare each of the kids to thrive individually and to find his or her path to a happy and fulfilling life,” Shannon said. 

“Our proudest moments as parents happen when their actions reflect good core values that should bring them success in life,” she added.

“Though I am sure we will miss seeing them every day when all five of them move into the dorms in the fall, we love the fact that each of them seems to be on a path that will allow for them to continue to grow into the people they are meant to be.”