One chilly October night, third year Diagnostic Medical Sonography major Sarah Burgess was fast asleep in her University Commons apartment when a loud knock on her window snapped her back to reality. Sitting up abruptly, her heart raced as she yelled out, “Kaden Lange, if that’s not you outside this window I will freak out!”
It was no closet monster, bandit, or any of the million other things that go bump in the night; it was, in fact, Kaden Lange, her boyfriend of five years. A member of the U.S. Army set to deploy to Iraq in several weeks, he had planned a surprise midnight rendezvous, possibly the most important one of his life. Once Burgess welcomed him inside, he proposed.
“I was still really groggy,” said Burgess, recalling the unexpected turn of events.“I remember looking at my hand, and I was like, ‘I can’t see the ring, but I’m sure it’s beautiful!’”
“It’s untraditional, and it’s not at all romantic,” she said with a laugh, commenting on Lange’s unique method of proposing. But at 21, she’s ready to commit, and she’s not alone. A shrinking minority of college students are still choosing to take their relationship to the next level, and RIT is no exception.
Burgess met Lange during her junior year of high school. She comments on their meeting, “We were both life guarding, and I guess the rest is history.”
For other couples like Tony Knopp, a fifth year Computer Science major, and Michelle Ketrick, a fourth year International Business and Economics major from SUNY Brockport, it would appear that college itself was what drew them together.
Ketrick met her fiancé on a trip to RIT. “My best friend, who lived at Elmira at the time, had a cousin at RIT, so we came up to visit him,” said Hetrick. Her friend’s cousin lived on the first floor of Helen Fish Hall, the same floor as Knopp. “We played Monopoly, and he swept me off my feet,” said Hetrick.
The two immediately hit it off and began dating. “I think we sort of hit a point where we always knew that we were going to get married,” said Knopp, “but we wanted to wait and make sure that we were situated.”
That point came last July, as Knopp and Ketrick were preparing for their final year of college. “Her parents threw a big Fourth of July party — they had fireworks and all that — and all the family was there, so I figured that would be a good time,” said Knopp. “I got the attention of all the family and proposed, and she said yes.”
“My parents were there, and he had asked their permission for my hand in marriage, so they kind of knew it was coming,” said Ketrick. “When he proposed to me, my mom was there with two cameras ready to go — my camera and hers — and she’s taking pictures of him proposing while she’s crying her eyes out.”
In the past half century, there has been a decided shift in the public perception of marriage, and the couples of today are marrying far later than their predecessors. While it was once common for students and younger couples to marry, today’s engaged and married students face a variety of reactions, from support to downright opposition.
“All our close friends don’t treat us any differently. They had always seen us together for the last four years,” said Knopp. For Ketrick, she faces the most opposition from her older peers. “I work with a lot of people who are between the ages of 25 and 35,” Ketrick said. “Most of them think of me as pretty young, so when I first got engaged, they were like, ‘you’re way too young, you have no idea what you’re doing!’”
For someone whose father married at the age of 21, Burgess is not concerned with age. “I’m 21 right now, and by the time I graduate I’ll be 22. I’ll be in the real world. Once you’re out of school, I feel like you’re not young.”
“One thing I have noticed that’s changed is it’s easier for me to interact with other guys, just knowing that I’m engaged,” said Burgess, seeing the ring as a deterrent for unwanted attention. But Knopp and Hetrick see the story slightly differently. “There’s still some guys that will still try even when they see the ring; it’s just one more obstacle,” said Knopp.
An RIT yearbook from 1967 depicts the Student Wives’ Club, an organization founded in 1960, “to promote friendliness, social fellowship, and a feeling of being part of the school.” While such a club would be unwelcome by today’s standards, it made sense with the higher percentage of married students, possibly a result of the school’s vocational origins.
During the years of RIT’s downtown campus, couples were allotted housing at the Backus Street apartments, a complex rented from the city of Rochester. When plans for the new Henrietta campus were shown not to include married couples housing, a fierce debate was sparked on campus. Eventually a compromise was reached, leading to the construction of the Colony Manor complex in 1968.
Today, the only true married couples housing RIT provides is in its apartment complexes. Burgess, Knopp and Hetrick are unaware of any programs for couples married or planning to be married. “I think it’s different because [Lange] is not here,” said Burgess, “I haven’t found anything in particular that makes RIT scream, ‘Aww yeah! You’re married, we want to support you in that!’”
Burgess and Lange plan to be married in September. “He comes home in June, so this summer is crunch time,” said Burgess. “It’s going to be a really chill wedding.” Knopp and Hetrick have planned for a sooner date, and will say their vows shortly after graduation, on July 25.
But even with their own weddings on the horizon, they’ve got some advice for others. “There’s no rush to get married, but if you’re interested in a girl, let her know,” said Burgess. “Although, if she says no, don’t forget to respect her wishes and back off.”
“Don’t be afraid to stick with one girl,” said Knopp. “If you feel it’s the right thing, don’t immediately think, ‘I’m going to break up with this person.’ Try and work it out, don’t try to move onto something else.”