Tuesday, April 14, 2020

“Get a Ring by Senior Spring” at Wake Forest University

I wrote this piece for my WRI 340, journalism class in the fall. I loved it so much that I wanted to share it with you all. I have only changed the name of my friends that are included in this piece for confidentiality.
Rebecca glanced at Thomas as he drove her blue Hyundai down South Stratford Road past Wake Forest University. He steered with his left hand and used his free hand to hold hers. She smiled. He was wearing the same preppy plaid shirt he always wore on their dates. She was just excited to be back together again, hand-in-hand, after six weeks apart. “Say You Won’t Let Go,” a sappy acoustic song played in the background as they drove to Bonefish Grill. This was one of her favorite date night restaurants. Rebecca’s stomach growled in excitement as she anticipated “bang-bang shrimp.” She was salivating thinking about the cheesy shrimp dish they were going to share for their reunion dinner. 
They pulled into the asphalt parking lot that leads up to the brick building. She didn’t know that Thomas had been thinking about this moment for months. He tossed the idea of giving her the gift in the car, back and forth, but changed his mind last minute and excitedly ran over to the passenger’s side door to let her out. Her pink dress grazed over her tan legs as he helped her out of the car. Thomas looked at her, heart beating out of his chest, he pulled a black felt box out his khaki pants. Rebecca looked at him, eyes wide, and with an infectious smile that went from ear to ear. 
The promise ring was not a huge surprise to Rebecca, a junior at Wake Forest University who had been dating Thomas, a senior, for about a year and a half. Thomas and Rebecca had talked about a ring and knew early on in their relationship that they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together. 
Rebecca was waiting for her 20th birthday gift from Thomas. She was anticipating a promise ring as her gift. He had asked her a few months prior to send him photos of her silver high school class ring that she wore every day on her right hand and the rose gold one that she wore on her middle finger of her left hand. Rebecca knew that this relationship was special, and that this ring was the next step in their relationship. This ring would be a pre-engagement ring.
Thomas thought this promise ring was also an important step. He talked to her mom and her grandfather, Rebecca’s closest confidants and best friends, over the phone about the idea of a ring to show his commitment and dedication to Rebecca. In the fall of 2017, Thomas spoke broken Spanish with Rebecca’s Peruvian grandfather over FaceTime. For the past several months Thomas had been teaching himself Rebecca’s first language so he could communicate with her family. Thomas wanted to ask him what he thought about him being with his granddaughter indefinitely. Thomas looked meaningfully at Rebecca’s grandfather over his iPhone screen. This was the first time they had had a one-on-one conversation. 
“Amo mucho tu nieta,” he said nervously, “I really love your granddaughter.” Thomas continued, “and obviously I am not asking for something big, because I know things come with time and I don’t want to rush anything, but I do know I want to show her an active effort to be dedicated to her and love her and prioritize her.” Thomas paused making sure he was correctly choosing the right Spanish words to properly convey his feelings. “I wanted to make sure that this was okay with you because I know that you are one of the most important people in her life.” 
A year later, in 2018, when Thomas flew to Peru to visit Rebecca for New Years, Thomas sat down face to face with Rebecca’s slender, fragile grandfather. He placed his large hand on Thomas’s knee and told him to “trata la bien” or “treat her well” and “trata la bien, cuida mi bebé” or “take care of my baby.” Rebecca’s grandfather blessed Thomas and Rebecca’s relationship a couple of weeks before passing away. 
Realizing what the box was, tears rolled down her face from her hazel eyes. He opened the black box. “I’m sure you already know what this is,” he paused. “This isn’t just a Happy Birthday thing, but you know that this is a very important relationship to me, and I want to make sure that we continue this.” He handed her the twisted rose gold ring with small circle diamonds in the parking lot. She held it, stared at it and tears continued to fall down her face that made him feel warm and special inside. The couple snapped a photo of their hands grasped, Rebecca’s new ring sparkling, and strolled hand-in-hand into the restaurant giggling.

Wake Forest University creates couples on its intimate campus. You will see at least one post on Instagram every four months of a couple getting engaged senior year. You will see at least two senior girls wearing “Bride to Be” sashes on the quad popping champagne bottles on the last day of class. You will hear the very common phrase, “get a ring by senior spring,” between friends who discuss who is getting a diamond ring by the end of senior year. 
Wake Forest University’s Southern Baptist history has helped create this marriage culture, but Wake students are the ones that have continued it throughout the school’s 185-year history. There’s a small and deeply rooted tradition at Wake of getting engaged while still in college. Northerners and international Wake students are engaged on campus just like Southern Baptist students. The marriage culture at Wake is not as intense as it was in the past, but there is a sub population here on campus where sometime in the second half of a undergraduates’ career long term couples get engaged. It is not true of every school of this size, and it is not just the religious folks, it is a universal thing at Wake Forest.
There are deep roots in marriage culture at Wake and they go all the way back to when Wake Forest was founded in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Otis Knuckles, the only policeman in the small, rural town of Wake Forest in the 1950s, was also the only campus police officer on the Wake Forest College campus. Each night he would make his rounds through the lush campus, making sure all was well. He would walk past the brick male dormitories following the stone walkways, past park benches and through the white gazebo towards Binkley Chapel. The chapel was brick with white columns and had a high white steeple that would be hidden on a foggy night.
One quiet night he was walking around, observing the campus via flashlight, and saw that one of the tall magnolia trees appeared to be swaying. He shown his light a little deeper into the tree through the dark, thick magnolia leaves, and found a couple in a compromising position. The couple froze mid-act, afraid that they were surely busted. As Ed Morris, Executive Director of Wake Forest Historical Museum, was later told, Officer Knuckles chuckled. “Oh, just making sure you weren’t dancing in there,” the officer reportedly said in his heavy Southern accent. 
Wake Forest College was founded in 1834 by the North Carolina Baptist State Convention as an all men’s school in the rural town of Wake Forest, North Carolina. The North Carolina Baptist State Convention, an organization founded in the 1700s unifies Baptists and Baptist Churches in North Carolina. Members of the Baptist State Convention were the trustees of the school. They controlled the programing, and more importantly, the funding of the college. Baptist beliefs were deeply rooted in Wake’s institution. Baptists do not believe in dancing or premarital sex. When women were introduced to campus in 1934, the men and women wanted to start dancing and having sex. Dancing was banned at Wake Forest College starting in 1937. Wake Forest’s Baptist heritage influenced the social norms during the 1940s and 50s. In 1957, dancing was allowed back on campus when Wake Forest trustees allowed chaperoned dances despite the ban from the Baptist State Convention
Wake Forest’s campus culture has strong ties to the university’s history. Wake Forest was viewed as “the crown jewel of Baptist higher education,” said Dr. Bill Leonard, Dunn Professor of Baptist Studies and Church History Emeritus at Wake Forest. Even as the college turned into a university and the Baptist ties became less and less strong on campus, because new trustees who were not Baptist started taking over, students continued to be influenced by Southern Baptist norms. Wake Forest was trying to break away from the Southern Baptist traditions. In a 1986 New York Times article, “School officials said they were uncomfortable with the growing conservative trend in Southern Baptist life.” Wake Forest University officially cut ties with the Southern Baptist Convention in 1986. The social tendencies of the Baptist culture continued well past the erasure of the Baptist religion on campus. The marriage culture at Wake exists today. “I’m surprised that your classmates are getting married because the posts of southern culture and Baptist culture have dissipated,” said Leonard. The institutionalized structures of Baptist culture no longer exist at Wake, but Wake students are still participating in this old culture.
The historical attitude toward sexuality at Wake influenced dating and marriage culture on campus. Southern Baptist culture was strict about male and female relations. Couples did not live together nor have sex before marriage, or at least they were not supposed to, it was a social taboo, especially in the rural south. There was “very strict monitoring with physical contact and marriage was the door to sexual experience,” says Leonard. Baptists preach abstinence. Leonard says that “many people in the south married early” because that was the culture of the south. Traditionally, southerners are religious and get married young. Wake Forest was a small-town rural school, Morris says, and “it was generally the culture at large” for students to not intermingle with the opposite sex after dark. Morris and Leonard agree that Wake’s campus culture was influenced by both the traditional old ways of the south and the Southern Baptist culture. The college created strict rules to enforce the attitudes of the rural south and rules that matched the Baptist religion. Some students did follow the rules and married during their college years or right after. Others, did not, and attempted to be sneaky and hide in the magnolia trees. 
In 1834, Wake Forest was only for men. A century later, the class of 1934, only had one woman enrolled. But in 1942, for the first time, the small-town college began admitting women on a full-time basis. With women on campus meant new structures and new rules for the college to create and for students to follow and to break. 
In the Dean of Women’s Responsibilities Packet in the Wake Forest University Special Collections and Archives, the purpose of the Dean of Women was created with the responsibility of “governing safety and wellbeing of the resident women students.” One responsibility of the Dean of Women was to keep track of martial relationships. “All students, women and men, including day students, under twenty-one years of age, planning to continue their reenrollment in the College after marriage must, prior to the marriage, have his or her parent or guardian notify the Dean of Women.” Married students were not allowed to live on campus in dormitories. A new dating and marriage culture at Wake Forest was created when women were admitted to this Southern Baptist institution. 
Marriage was clearly a hot topic at Wake as early as the 1940s when a new gender was allowed to occupy the same pathways on campus. The Student, a Wake Forest student magazine, took opinions from students about dating and marriage in 1961. One student commented that, “’Most of us have in the back of our minds that we will find someone in college with intelligence and similar interests that we might consider spending the rest of our lives with.’” Students at Wake were looking for future spouses. A survey taken in The Student four years later showed that these students understood the marriage culture at Wake very well. In 1965, 13.4% of juniors were engaged and 30.2% of seniors on campus were also engaged to be wed. 
There was clearly a very prevalent marriage culture. These statistics are not surprising considering the firm rules between men and women on the gender segregated campus. The rules were strict for both genders. Women had their dress regulated and “their comings and goings were carefully noted” indicated in the Wake Forest Magazine, “Dean of Women, Living Down the Image.” Women’s rooms were inspected frequently. Campus had a curfew for both male and female students. There was the infamous apartment rule which forbid any coed, or woman student, to visit a man’s apartment, hotel or motel room. If students were married, then they could live together. If the students were being sneaky and got caught, the Women’s Government Association, an association created in 1942 that governed the ladies on Wake Forest campus, would punish the caught female student. In the eyes of the students, these rules were meant to be broken. “’As far as the school rules go, the attitude is just not to get caught. Besides, you do anything before 12:00 midnight that you might do after that time,’” The Student, 1965. Students were rebelling against the strict Baptist culture that still existed on campus.
Wake Forest students created this dating and marriage culture simultaneously as the college itself created this culture. According to a 1967 article in the Wake Forest Magazine the Dean of Women had a responsibility to create special seminars focused around marriage. These seminars prepared women who were to be married after graduation with medical aspects of marriage and family planning. The college encouraged the marriage culture. A year after this article came out, Wake cut ties with the Southern Baptist Convention. However, the marriage culture continued.
Today, Wake Forest University is located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. There is no Dean of Women or Dean of Men, rather a Dean of Students. There is no rule against dancing. There are only co-ed dorms on the Reynolda campus. A lot has changed since the mid-1900s at Wake Forest, and a lot has not changed. We still have the beautiful Magnolia trees that sway in the wind. We have brick buildings, beautiful landscaping and a high steepled chapel. We also still have students that are getting married and engaged at what seems to be the same high rates that male students were popping the question to co-eds back in the 40s.
There are over 4000 alumni couples according to Wake Forest University alumni records. The couples are from all different backgrounds and live all across the United States. But every February, “Deacs in Love,” an annual event created by the Office of Alumni Engagement, bring alumni couples with the best love stories back to campus for a weekend of love. The institution is clearly aware of the marriage culture on campus because the school dedicates a whole weekend to celebrating those couples that were created on campus. These couples, all ages and all generations, spoke with Elise Dean, a Wake Forest Magazine Intern in 2018. She saw first-hand the marriage culture that Wake Forest campus creates.
One female Wake alumnae remembers when her friend at the time asked her to be his girlfriend in Reynolda Gardens freshman year. They have now been married for 25 years. Another alumnae talked about her marriage in Wait Chapel after a year on the wait list. Leonard, who is an ordained minister, has married at least ten Wake couples in Wait Chapel. He says they are always fun because they are like, “a college reunion.” 
“People have this commonality of experiences and relationships that all intertwine,” Dean said. “Some of these people, feel a deeper sense of connection because of Wake.” 
There is something unique about Wake and its small and intimate environment. Kathie Amato ’77, and husband, Professor Al Rives ’76, told Dean that, “’Wake Forest is very special because our life together and our story would not exist without it,’ Kathie said, adding this advice for any Deac: ‘Don’t let Wake just be a place that you’re from. Let it be a place that you’re connected to.’”

Rebecca, a freshman at Wake Forest University, peered inside her large closet and looked at her clothes hanging. She thought for a quick second about what to wear but decided jeans and a white t-shirt was the way to go. She pulled on her pants and looked at the mirror over her sink in her larger than average sized freshman dorm room. She threw on her puffy winter coat. She wanted to look okay, but not too fancy for the Alpha Phi Omega interest meeting.
            Alpha Phi Omega (APO) is the biggest collegiate fraternity in the United States. It is the only co-ed service fraternity at Wake. Rebecca’s friends all joined in the fall, so she wanted to learn about the organization that all of her friends had been raving about.
            She took the elevator down and walked out of the large double doors of South Residence Hall. She curved behind Luter Residence Hall and walked nervously into the small white-walled APO lounge. 
Thomas, a tall blond sophomore from Indiana greeted her as she walked in. She was the first one there. When others started to file in, she gathered with about twenty-five other eager second semester freshman who were ready to get involved in community service. She stood and looked at the square framed photos of APO brothers from over the years that lined the crown molding. Other interested students squished on the two large couches surrounding the projector screen and table. 
Thomas in his khaki pants and plaid button down turned on the projector and opened the slideshow. He smiled and introduced himself to the group. He was the new vice president of membership, in charge of recruiting and educating the new members. He was in charge of leading rush events, planning bid day and all activities pertaining to new members. He exuded excitement and couldn’t wait to start the recruitment process. Thomas stood and spoke for about 20 minutes about the organization and how interested students could join. Rebecca signed up right there and began rushing APO. 
            For the next two weeks, Rebecca and her fellow rushees went to ten events. Each day alternated between an hour-long social event and a service event. During the first week, Thomas was stressed in making sure all of the events were running smoothly. He rarely talked to any rushees because he was too focused on all the details. Thomas’s friends told him to relax and forced him to sit down at one of the service events and talk to some of the rushees. He sat down right across from Rebecca. He stuffed some rice into a sock, to make a heat pack for the elderly and started a conversation with her. He made some jokes, and together, they successfully made a dozen heat packs.
The new rushees were inducted at the end of the two weeks. A week later, Rebecca grabbed a pledge and went to aWake All Night, a late-night carnival in Benson University Center. They bumped into Thomas there. The three APO friends played carnival games, laughed and ate salty popcorn. Rebecca got to know Thomas and told me that, “that’s when I started to like him.”
When aWake All Night ended at 1am, Rebecca was having so much fun with Thomas that she didn’t want the night to end. She invited her friend and Thomas back to her large room in South to hang out. The three friends climbed up on top of Rebecca’s lofted bed and talked for hours. Many hours and laughs later, Rebecca and Thomas both realized that they liked each other but would only admit that to each other a couple of weeks later. Rebecca recalls her feelings, “He was cute, and he paid attention to our conversation in a genuine way.” 
            Six weeks later, on March 31st, 2017, Rebecca and her new brothers were initiated into APO. They celebrated at Shag on the Mag, a Wake Forest tradition that features a live band, food, and dancing on the Mag Quad under the magnolia trees. Rebecca wore a printed white dress and nude sandals. She and her APO brothers danced until two in the morning under a big white tent on the quad. 
Thomas wore a blue gingham button down with khakis and brown shoes. He congratulated Rebecca on becoming a brother and asked her to dance. He brought her to dance floor, right in front of the 8-piece band. Couples were swinging and shag dancing. Arms were flailing. Friends were teaching other friends how to do complicated moves. The trumpet was blaring. A few minutes before midnight, Thomas asked Rebecca to be his girlfriend in the middle of the dance floor, as the saxophone rang in their ears.

Marriage culture is clearly still here at Wake Forest. But just because some Wake students are falling in love, getting married, or planning on getting married, does not mean that those are the goals and intentions of every student. The students that are getting engaged and married is a small population at Wake Forest. Wake Forest is an academically rigorous institution where love and marriage is just one small part of the student experience. Most students are focused on their future careers as businessmen and women, doctors and lawyers. They are focused on studying for the GRE, LSAT and MCAT. They are thinking about who they are going to live with when they move to New York or Charlotte to start their new careers. Not all of Wake Forest’s students’ lives focus around marriage or dating. And sometimes, just because someone meets someone and falls in love on campus, does not mean that it works out. Wake Forest creates well-rounded individuals through a liberal arts education where students learn and grow. Students are forced to think critically and analytically. They are taught to synthesize information and develop in their maturity. Wake opens students to new ideas, perspectives and experiences that sometimes pull couples who were once in love apart. 
Amelia and Daniel met freshman year at Zick’s, Wake Forest University’s pizza shop, on the upper quad during orientation week. Amelia strolled over from Luter Residence Hall to meet up with her new friends for dinner. Amelia’s friends had brought along another guy, Daniel. The sun was still high as the group of friends waited on the freshly mowed grass outside of Zick’s for Amelia, who was late. The friends stood with their backs to the symmetrical trees that framed Wait Chapel. Little pieces of toilet paper stuck to the branches and hid between the leaves. Daniel had heard so much about this new freshman from their mutual friend. After her 10-minute walk, with lots of stairs, and brick pathways, past many magnolia trees, dogs, kids throwing frisbees, and picnickers, she finally made it to the upper quad and met the group. She saw Daniel and immediately thought he was cute. 
He had short brown spiky hair and a bit of a five o’clock shadow. He was slim and average height. He wore colorful sneakers, shorts, a leather bracelet and a flat rimmed baseball cap. Under his foot he had his neon-colored Penny Board. 
The couple started dating a month later, September 26. 
 “I felt entirely comfortable around him, with no boundaries right off the bat,” Amelia said. “Everything was easy.” She knew early on that he was the one.
The first Saturday of senior year, I got a text from Amelia at 8:30pm, “It’s bad Elizabeth.” Gray typing bubbles popped up on my screen, “I think it’s over.”
After three years, August 31, 2019, Amelia and Daniel’s relationship was over. 
I sat down with Amelia a week after their breakup for lunch at the Pit, Wake Forest’s favorite dining hall. She sat down at our booth with a bowl of pasta, one of her first meals all week since the breakup. I crunched on my spinach salad. 
She wore her hair down and straight. Her thick rimed tortoise shell glasses perched on her nose highlighted her blue eyes. She was sad and a bit lonely, but okay. She was not the stereotypical girl who just got dumped with dirty hair, stretchy pants and mascara running down her face. Her mascara was intact, hair was clean and no yoga pants in sight. Rather, she wore her ripped Madewell jeans and a solid colored cotton shirt. She still wore the gold and diamond arrow necklace that Daniel bought her, but when asked about it she said she liked it and it’s hers.
Amelia was a “Deacs in Love” story that went wrong. She hoped that eventually her and Daniel would be a “Deacs in Love” alumni couple, and who says she won’t be in the future with another guy. But for the moment, she is okay that she is not anymore. 
When discussing the breakup, I asked what went wrong. “I don’t think we had anything in common,” Amelia said. She had it all settled in her head. She had been unhappy for the past year but did not want to admit it to herself that they were not meant to be together. Amelia had shared every moment of college with him and could not bring herself to realize that she could do college without him. 
Amelia was pre-med, destined to be the next neonatologist and Daniel was a communications major interested in cars and public relations. Amelia also found that they had “different morals.” 
The way they grew up was different. He came from a family of entrepreneurs in Los Angeles, California and she came from a Catholic, book loving family in Maryland. “He placed importance on material things: car, watches; but none of that has ever mattered to me,” she said. “I’ve never cared about those things.” 
I asked Amelia if she felt that Wake brought them together or tore them apart. She replied that it was not Wake’s fault that they broke up. Wake is the reason she met Daniel, freshman year outside of Zicks. Amelia told me she loves her school and is thankful for all of the opportunities and experiences it has given her, including meeting her former boyfriend. Wake forced Amelia to grow as an individual and that pulled her apart unintentionally from Daniel. Amelia states that her Wake study abroad experience really changed her and helped her to grow and sadly, “he didn’t.”
Amelia is one of the handful of students that I have found that thought she would marry her Wake boyfriend, but it didn’t work out. Wake brought them together but Wake also broke them apart. Amelia is a part of the majority of Wake students that will not marry their long-term college boyfriends or girlfriends. Wake creates couples that would have never formed in the outside world. This small school creates an environment that brings people together based on similarities and differences. Wake Forest makes students grow and change as individuals. Wake moves people around within the community and makes them closer to others based on more similar interests and values. 

Thomas graduated from Wake last May, and Rebecca is graduating this year. Her rose gold diamond ring still sparkles. But Rebecca thinks this summer it will be replaced by a larger diamond. Thomas moved to Connecticut after graduation and commutes to work in New York every day. This summer he plans on moving to New York with Rebecca after she graduates. But she won’t move in with him without an engagement ring. 
            Rebecca reflected on her time here at Wake and how blessed she feels to have met Thomas at Wake. “I wanted someone that was very smart so they could motivate me and bring out the best in my academic self. I definitely think that Wake had a big part in that because it is such an academically challenging school.” Thomas and Rebecca were able to participate in that academically rigorous environment together and were able to motivate each other. This helped “emphasized our morals, values and goals in life” she said. 
Even though Wake is no longer Baptist affiliated, the early marriage “tradition continues because of the intensity of campus life at Wake,” says Leonard. The continued marriage culture speaks to how the traditions of Wake stay the same over the years. Historically, Wake was a Baptist affiliated school and an institution that promoted marriages. Wake is religiously independent now and still promotes the marriage culture in a less extreme way. Students are still getting engaged and still getting married while in college. The ideas of marriage culture have been engraved in student’s brains since freshman year, when we all saw a girl sitting on the quad drinking champagne in her “Bride to Be” sash. Times change, but traditions don’t. 
“Without Wake this wouldn’t have happened,” said Thomas when thinking about his relationship. He is thankful for Wake for bringing him Rebecca. “Wake made it easy to do stuff and hang out and be us,” he said. “If we weren’t at Wake, it would have been harder to make time for each other.”
I also got a ring by senior spring, but no the diamond or engagement kind!
I was sent my gold signet ring from onecklace.com.
I've always wanted a signet ring. I think they are so chic and classic. I custom ordered this one, to be gold plated and have a script "G" for my last name. I should've ordered a 4.5 or a 5 to wear it on my right ring finger, but oops, I ordered a 6. So on my middle finger it will have to stay.
This website has really great customized jewelry, and they make great grad gifts or treat yourself gifts!

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