WILMINGTON, Del. -- They will always be the Manning triplets.
Leslie was the first one to be born, followed by Stephanie one minute later and James 60 seconds after that.
Back in 1992, their births at Christiana Hospital were unique enough to warrant a story in The News Journal.
Growing up, there was no escaping the shared birthday – and for the first few years of their lives, the color-coordinated clothing. But over the years the trio amassed their own friends and interests.
Now, the three share another important milestone: graduating together from the University of Delaware. They will be among the 5,564 students celebrating their undergraduate or graduate degrees Saturday.
After this, the triplets will begin their journey toward independence.
Leslie, who graduates with degrees in sports management and marketing, will be the first to fly the nest, leaving in August for an internship with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team. Stephanie, who majored in exercise science with a minor in strength and conditioning, is aiming to get into a physical therapy school. James, who graduates with a biochemical engineering degree, wants a job developing medical devices.
It will be the first time the siblings have lived apart, though they've sometimes gone a week or more without seeing each other, even while living at home in Middletown, from which they commuted to classes.
"It will definitely be a strange thing when one of us is not around," said James Manning. "It's one thing to miss each other because someone is too busy. It's another when the opportunity is no longer there."
Raising triplets means creating order out of chaos, and for Jim and Andrea Manning, that's exactly what they did after Leslie, Stephanie and James were born April 20, 1992.
From the start, each baby had his or her own color: pink for Stephanie, blue for James and yellow for Leslie, the only one whose gender was unknown because of the way she laid in the womb. (Even 22 years later, James and Stephanie still tease her about being sprawled out in their mother's abdomen while the two of them were scrunched under ribs.)
The parents made spreadsheets for the crib to keep track of each baby's feedings and toilet habits. For Andrea, a critical care nurse, it was the only way to stay abreast – pun intended – of which two babies were breastfeeding and which one had formula during each feeding. Boxes of diapers climbed floor to ceiling in their dining room.
Jim and Andrea were no newbies in the parenting world – they had an older daughter, Sara, who quickly assumed status as the triplets' second mother.
Being a triplet had its perks when it came to making new friends and having something to talk about. But at Red Lion Christian Academy, where they went to school from fifth to 12th grades, they weren't even all that unusual, just one of four sets of triplets.
Jim and Andrea decided early on to keep the kids separated in class so they could develop their own identities. They soon excelled in different areas: Leslie was a natural in sports, while Stephanie showed promise in art. James, the one always tinkering, found his strength in science.
"We just tried to be real careful in not having them in competition with each other," Jim said. "They could have rivalries, but at the same time we wanted to allow them to seek their own space."
When it came time for college, the three contemplated other schools, but each came to the decision to attend Delaware individually. Their parents gave them the option of living at home and having a car, or living on campus and paying the boarding cost themselves.
"That was pretty easy," Stephanie said. "It's nice not having those bills."
As Jim and Andrea celebrate the end of writing checks to the university, their kids will celebrate another way. Atop their mortarboards, they plan to write "UD Triplet Graduates" with their birth number underneath.
On Sunday, the family will hold one big graduation party.
There will be one cake. With three tiers.
One pink. One yellow. One blue.