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E. Setauket quads all to attend same upstate college

Seventeen-year-old quadruplets, Erin, Danny, Bobby, and Grace Mele,

Seventeen-year-old quadruplets, Erin, Danny, Bobby, and Grace Mele, hold their Scholarship letters to Hartwick College. (Dec. 29, 2009) Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

For months, Grace Mele resisted Hartwick College's offer of admission.

Yes, the East Setauket teen was accepted in the honors program, with tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships. Yes, she loved the small campus in upstate Oneonta. But there was a problem, and it had to do with three other students who had committed to attend next year.

Her sister and her two brothers.

"I wasn't sure I wanted to spend four years at college as one of the quadruplets," Grace said.

Earlier this month, while driving home from a visit to other colleges, Grace turned to her father, Robert Mele, and announced her decision. She would attend Hartwick, along with Erin, Bobby and Danny. Her father cried in happiness.

Then Grace phoned Bobby - the "most sensitive of all of us about family stuff" - and told him that the quads would stick together.

"I was in shock," Bobby recalled giddily. "That completed the whole circle."

The decision ends an anxious time for the 17-year-old Mele quads, who talk of sharing a special bond since they were born prematurely at 29 weeks at Stony Brook University Medical Center. They've been discussing whether they can hold on to their separate identities while attending a college that has fewer students than their high school, Ward Melville.

Hartwick charges $45,000 to attend, which should mean $180,000 per year for the quads. But that total was reduced to $74,000 per year thanks to scholarships and sibling discounts. The Meles, who are divorced, plan to pay through a combination of parent loans, student loans, work study, and cashing out savings bonds and investments.

Hartwick made no secret of its fascination with the quads. Bobby and Danny were the first to agree to attend last fall, and even requested each other as roommates. Bobby was accepted into the school's nursing program. Danny wants to study music and education.

Erin made her decision last month after relatives assured her Hartwick's liberal arts education will give her the initial training to be a homicide detective. "Moving away from home is a big step," she said, "and this way I have a support system."

Grace loves her siblings, but wanted some independence. "I thought, 'Hartwick is so small, what if they keep grouping with me?' " She was swayed in part by Hartwick's promise that her high grades will assure her a place in an honors dorm across the campus from her siblings' freshman dorm.

The Meles will constitute 1 percent of the 400 students in Hartwick's freshman class.

"Each will grow and mature individually through their chosen field of study, extracurricular activities and meeting new friends," said admissions director Jonathan Kent.

The quads attended an accepted students' day on campus earlier this month "and all went in different directions," said their mother, Patricia.

Bobby said he got strange looks when he told students he'd be attending college with his two sisters and brother. "Kids asked how old my siblings are, and I tried to explain we're the same age."

Grace, who wants to study medicine, has no regrets about turning down scholarships at Roanoke College, the University of Massachusetts, SUNY Oneonta and elsewhere. "It would be traumatic for us to go our own ways now," she said. "We're going to savor these next few years together."

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