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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained
For a few love-struck seniors, Commencement won't be this summer's only bell-ringing.
Debunking the myth of Harvard's dull love scene, some seniors will greet graduation with rings on their fingers and a true love by their sides.
They met on the Internet, in high school and during pre-frosh weekend. Their proposal props ranged from stuffed animals to cheesecake to umbrellas. As members of the Class of '98 go their separate ways, these seniors will travel as pairs.
Here are some of their stories.
A Natural Science
Chemistry 10: "Foundations of Chemistry" is usually a class associated with eager first-years and anal pre-meds, not swinging singles. But for Robyn A. Runft '98, Chem 10 was the opportunity to meet her future husband, Jonathan H. Liu '98.
Liu's first-year roommate was Runft's lab partner. The two got to know each other as Runft spent hours in Liu's room, pouring over data and results.
"I think it was around finals period that I started to know, started to kind of think of him in that way," she remembers.
It was Liu's roommate who arranged the couple's first outing--a black-tie opening of his play. Liu claims his roommate had no romantic intentions in mind at the time.
"He just wanted people to go to his play," he says.
But the two say a close relationship grew from there. Although they first discussed marriage in the summer before their junior year, Runft says she was still surprised by his proposal during a dinner date in October of that year.
"I didn't think he was going to propose because we had a meeting to go to that night," she says. "I thought after he asked, we'd want to call our families and everything. To go to that meeting would have been really anti-climactic."
Runft's first clue that something was up was when Liu brought roses to their table at Henrietta's Table.
"We celebrate on the 29th of every month, because we sort of started dating on January 29th," she says. "[The dinner was on] October 29th, and he brought flowers, which he does sometimes, but not terribly often."
The actual proposal came later, when the two returned from their meeting.
"We were just sitting in his room, and he said he had something for me. He pulled out the ring and got down on one knee. I said, `I guess I should stand up,'" she remembers. "It was a shock to see him on one knee, with a diamond ring. I was speechless, so he was like, `Please!'"
The two plan a church wedding on August 29 in a small Kansas town, all of which is invited to the event.
The Chem 10 sweethearts next year will live together in Kansas City, Mo. Runft plans to attend medical school in 1999, and Liu is considering art school.
Both say they plan to have a family, but she says that will happen "when I'm a doctor," while he puts the date "in the far future."
Love At First Type
For Abigail E. Baker '98, love was just a mouse click away. She and fiancée Jack C. Lin met on match.com, a singles' Web page.
According to Baker, Lin, who is a medical student at the American University of the Caribbean, fell in love with her after reading the description she wrote for the service.
"He read my profile, and he was like, 'Oh my God,'" Baker says. "He wrote me a really short note and was like you're the type of girl I'm interested in. What he didn't know was that I had already read his profile and I had thought he sounded really cool."
But for Baker, love took a little longer to develop--at least several days.
"I was little skeptical. I'm very anal about the way I type, and he is more loose about it," she says. "It didn't really seem like he was on top of things as I am."
But Baker says that a week into their on-line relationship the two knew they were logged on to love. It was at that point that Lin called Baker and spoke to her for the first time.
Their conservation lasted eight hours.
"When we talked, he was just amazing. He's completely perfect in every way," Baker says.
One week after their first phone conversation and two weeks after they first met on-line, Lin visited Boston.
The couple discussed marriage during that very first visit and programmed their future.
"[The engagement] is unofficial. He bought me a promise ring, but ring or no ring, it's the same thing," she says.
No marriage date is set, but Baker passed up plans for a high-powered job to move to the Caribbean after graduation to be with Lin.
"I was going to go to some high-tech consulting career, because that's what I thought I was supposed to do, but I've been really burnt out," she says.
Baker stresses that one should be careful while meeting people on the Web, but she says that for the sincere, there is love in virtual reality.
"The Internet has a really bad reputation, but I think that's exaggerated," she says. "There were some really freaky people, but there were a lot of genuine, nice people."
Tie the Twist
Rachel M. Kadel '98 was not content to settle for the conventional ring.
After she and fiancée Nico Garcia, a 35-year-old MIT graduate, had been dating for almost a year, Kadel decided the two should tie the knot.
"One day, while we were cooking dinner, I worked up the courage," she says. "I grabbed a twist tie to use for a ring. He didn't say yes or no at that point. He said he would tell me on our one-year anniversary."
One month later Garcia agreed, as the two celebrated their anniversary at a North End restaurant. They will be married June 13 at Memorial Church.
The couple met at a mutual friend's house when they both arrived to watch the screening of a science-fiction television show. According to Kadel, the two "fell in friendship" at first sight.
"I thought he was a very nice guy who gave very good back rubs," she says.
The two were reunited over the Internet, where they were both involved in a newsgroup dedicated to discussing problems with the Church of Scientology. When a fellow newsgroup user (who was actually a member the Church) declared them "suppressive persons," Garcia organized a dinner to celebrate their new status.
It was their first date.
For Vinh Q. Chung '98 and fiancée Leisle I. Chung, who met during the summer before their senior year of high school, The Game takes on particular importance. At the same time that Vinh Chung headed from his Arkansas home to Harvard, Leisle Chung made the leap to New Haven.
"We thought it would be good to be separate at first," Vinh Chung says. "If we had come to the same college, I wouldn't have had a social life."
The two met at an Arkansas summer program for academically talented rising high school seniors. Vinh Chung remembers Leisle as quiet, but as the couple got to know each other, he says they became quick friends.
"Her last name was also Chung, which was the one thing I really noticed at first," he says. "Being from Arkansas there aren't that many people named Chung."
Throughout their senior year, the Chungs wrote letters to each other every day. Vinh Chung says he still has all the letters Leisle wrote him, and he knows she saved his letters.
"We'll sit together and read them someday," he says.
The couple will be married August 22 in Arkansas. After a honeymoon, they will head to Scotland to study for a year.
`I Said No. Loudly'
The first two times Fairah B. Kahn asked Osvaldo E. Pereira '98 to go out with her, he said no.
The couple met during their first year of high school when they both participated in athletic decathlon.
"She was asking me over to her house to study. She was asking me over as a pretext," Pereira says. "I said no--I thought it was too risqué."
Over the next three years, Pereira says he knew Kahn, but it was she who maintained their contact.
"She was observing my life silently from the sidelines. She kept informed about developments in my life," he says.
During their senior year, Pereira asked Kahn to a high school dance. Under pressure from her parents, she turned him down. When she later asked him to go bowling one day out of the blue, Pereira turned her down out of bitterness.
"I said no. Loudly, so that other people in the classroom could hear," he remembers. "I had liked her for some time, but I was insecure."
The next day Pereira reconsidered and asked Kahn out.
Kahn said yes.
The two spent their first date in an Iranian restaurant.
"The waitress was from a former Soviet republic. She smoked Marlboros and had a huge tattoo," he recalls. "That was our first romantic date."
Pereira says the first date was all it took.
"I fell head over heels in love," he says. "We saw each other every minute of every day until I left for Harvard. We decided before I left that we were going to get married."
"It was nerd romance," he says.
The pair vowed to keep in touch as they headed to college--Kahn to the University of California at Los Angeles and Pereira to Harvard.
Pereira says he has known he wanted to spend the rest of his life with Kahn since one night during the summer before he came to college.
"We were on a bluff over looking Laguna Beach. It was the classic setting: a full moon, a summer's night. I was looking out at the ocean and this feeling of eternity came over me. I thought if this moment could last forever, I wanted it to," Pereira says.
They kept their commitment throughout their college years, frequently racking up telephone bills of $600 a month.
"I realized at that point that this wasn't worth pursuing unless we were headed towards something like marriage," Pereira says.
He proposed during their sophomore year.
As a trick, Pereira told Kahn he didn't want her to buy him anything for Christmas. She expected he would do the same. Instead, he presented her with a small stuffed tiger. In a hat perched on the tiger's head, Pereira hid a diamond ring.
"The first thing she did was throw away the hat," he says. "I had to redirect her attention to the hat."
After digging both the hat and the ring out of the trash, Kahn roared her loving approval.
The wedding will be held on June 28 in Southern California. The two had hoped to elope to the Italian valley where Pereira's grandparents were married, but all four parents vetoed the international wedding plan.
After the wedding, the high school sweethearts will live together in New York City next year.
Pre-frosh weekend is a time for learning about Harvard, attending classes and, of course, meeting people.
For one senior couple, the emphasis was on the last. Mallar Bhattacharya '98 and Devi SenGupta '98, now engaged, were first introduced at the A Capella Jam.
"I knew right away we had a lot in common. We both had an interest in Indian classical music," he says. "My theory is that she came to Harvard over Stanford for me, but she denies it."
But SenGupta remembers their pre-frosh encounter slightly differently.
"I remember thinking he was pretty good-looking, but kind of clueless. He just started asking questions right away about my hobbies and stuff," she remembers. "It wasn't the typical way of hitting on someone."
The two met again when school started in the fall, but didn't become good friends until they took Biological Sciences 2: "Organismic and Evolutionary Biology," together in the fall of their sophomore year.
"We would sit together every day in the second row. We studied together," SenGupta says. "During reading period I got free movie passes. We went to see Sense and Sensibility, which is something about friends becoming more then friends."
The pair began talking about dating after the movie and became an item soon after.
Both say their families' approval of the match, which was quick in arriving, was of crucial importance to the relationship.
"It strengthened my interest that he got along well with my mom," SenGupta says. "They would talk on the phone. She has a final say about everything."
The proposal was as typically Harvard as the couple's meeting. Bhattacharya says he foundered thinking of a creative way to pop the question, until a friend suggested that he ask at the Eliot Fete.
"There's one couple every year," he says. "It was between `Lady in Red' and some terrible Bryan Adams song--which I now regret--and I just asked. Before I knew it everyone around us knew. She started telling everyone."
But according to SenGupta, it was actually Bhattacharya who ensured that everyone in Eliot was talking about the engagement.
"He wanted to tell people, but I didn't want to," she say. "He told one person, and then five minutes later a tutor came up and congratulated him."
The pair will be studying separately in England next year, before heading to medical school. They plan to marry in the next two years.
"We want to have a fairly traditional marriage, but we're not sure which country to do it in--India or here," Bhattacharya says. "We'll most likely have a function in both places."
It's a good thing that Stephanie M. Gregerson '98 was good friends with her sophomore roommate, because her former roommate will soon become her sister-in-law.
During February of Gregerson's sophomore year, Ryan O. Hunter, a student at Brigham Young University, decided to visit his sister, Gregerson's roommate.
The visit was only five days long but, according to Gregerson, it was enough.
"I was very sad once he was gone," she remembers. "We were both pretty convinced that we weren't going to see each other again. It took a little time for us to be convinced that we would."
According to Gregerson, it was actually Janessa Hunter, her roommate, who helped that process.
"She was a big helper. She encouraged it on both sides and facilitated communication," Gregerson says.
The two communicated by phone and e-mail for the rest of the year until they saw each other again when Hunter came to help his sister move out in June. Soon, Hunter's parents joined his sister in prodding the couple, flying Gregerson to Idaho the next summer to visit their son.
"We actually started talking about marriage a lot sooner than I think people would expect. At the end of the summer we started talking about it," she says.
Hunter delayed the official proposal until the summer before Gregerson's senior year. The two went ring shopping, but Hunter claimed he was still saving money to buy the ring months later.
"That was his little ploy," Gregerson laughs. "He took me to the mountains and we had cheesecake by candlelight."
But Gregerson was not the first to learn of Hunter's proposal. Hunter called her parents earlier that evening to officially ask their permission.
"I like the traditional way of doing things," she says.
The two will be married June 27, in a small ceremony at a Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints temple in San Diego. The newlyweds will live in Utah and plan to start a family.
"We want to have kids--maybe sooner rather then later," Gregerson says.
Going the Distance
When Miriam T. Burgos '98 and Tino G. Ramos '96 marry, the ceremony will mark the culmination of years of long-distance travel and phone calls.
The two met during Burgos' Orientation Week. Ramos, a junior, was in town early to practice with a Latino dance group. The two met when Burgos joined the group.
A close friendship developed over the fall term. When Valentine's Day rolled around that winter, romance was in the air.
"He called me the day before Valentine's Day to ask me to dinner at Legal Seafood," Burgos says. "I was very surprised. I sensed that there was something there, but I didn't think it would really happen."
The date went well, and many more followed.
They were together until Ramos' graduation, but Burgos says it took only a month to convince the pair that they would spend the rest of their lives together.
"It was really the fact that we felt that we had so much in common, not only in terms of our interests, but in terms of our views of the future," Burgos says.
For the past two years, the couple has carried on a long-distance relationship while Ramos attends Cornell Medical School. But according to Burgos, the distance has only increased the strength of the relationship.
"It makes the time we spend together very, very special," she says. "This year we've gotten to see each other, on average, every three weeks. The hard part was saying goodbye at the end of every weekend."
Ramos proposed last April, while the two were in New York together. During a trip to Central Park, Ramos suddenly dropped to one knee.
"It was raining and very lonely. We had a huge umbrella, and we were both standing under it," Burgos lovingly reminisces.
The pair plan a large wedding once Ramos graduates from medical school. Next year, they will be forced to continue a long-distance relationship, as Burgos will remain in the Boston area. She is convinced that their relationship can survive the test.
"I'm absolutely positive that I love him. I don't know how to explain it. I can start with my usual butterfly in the stomach analogy, but you don't understand it until you feel it," Burgos says.
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