In books and in studies, in sickness and in health

As years of education stretch on and the median marriage age steadies at 25 for women and 27 for men, seeing a ring on an undergraduate’s finger is rare. A careful observer, however, may catch the sparkle of a diamond on a left hand atop a “TCNJ” notebook.

College Connection

Karla Santora, senior biology major, and her fianc?, former biology and secondary education major Elliot Hirshorn, were the least Bible-knowledgeable members of a small freshman Bible study group in Travers Hall during Santora’s freshman year.

“We both knew the least out of everybody there,” 22-year-old Santora said. “We had the least church background. We became friends from that.”

They talked, e-mailed when he left for an internship at Disney World and later dated. After a year and eight months, he phoned

Santora’s dad, who before Hirshorn could speak said, “Don’t worry, the answer’s yes.”

When the couple watched Hirshorn’s home-edited video of a proposal sandwiched between date photographs and outtakes on June 25, 2004, Santora’s answer was also yes.

Other than for finding flowers and comfortable shoes, the wedding preparations were mostly done over breaks so Santora could concentrate on her senior-year classes as she waits to find out which medical school she will be attending.

College friends are playing the music, singing and running the cameras at the wedding.

“Our friends are so talented,” Santora said. “We wanted to show them off.”

This Valentine’s Day, the couple will be taking dance lessons to prepare for their wedding. They are preparing for their marriage by hanging out with a married couple from their church.

“We have been learning about what makes a great marriage,” Santora said about the couple that has “adopted” them. “I think it’s kind of dumb that the only marriage you ever get to see is your parents’.”

Small Town Engagement

Rain poured as Kate Langton, junior nursing major, and her 28-year-old boyfriend, Robert Palmer, pulled into his driveway Dec. 23, 2004 after a date at Jack Baker’s Wharfside restaurant in Point Pleasant, the site of the couple’s first date.

“I have to pee really bad. I should have gone in the restaurant,” he said, running into his house. Langton followed. He had been unusually quiet during the dinner, which Langton thought was to celebrate her last final exam and the concert he had directed as an elementary school music teacher.

Inside, long-stemmed roses beside signs detailing the couple’s memories graced each step of the staircase to the upstairs living room.

After the steps, a sign on the living room floor spelled “Now,” followed by one that promised “Forever,” and then he was down on one knee with a ring, carefully selected to not tear Langton’s nursing gloves.

20-year-old Langton, who just switched into the nursing program, will marry on June 3, 2006, two years before she graduates.

“Being engaged is hard,” Langton said. “I always had this idealistic, perfect view, but I think we fought more engaged than when we weren’t trying to merge two lives.”

Langton works, volunteers with EMS and commutes 45 minutes from school to care for her mom, who suffers from cancer.

“We decided when I went back to school I would do no wedding planning,” she said. “It’s tempting, a great way to procrastinate.”

As a student paying her own way through college, Langton has to make sacrifices. She cannot just blow 100 bucks at the mall, she said.

This Valentine’s Day, her fianc? is making a home-cooked meal. The wedding will also be simple, in the same church by the beach that Langton’s parents married in.

“A wedding is one day, but a marriage is the rest of your life,” Langton said.

“As long as you both shall live…”

Nursing assistant professor Barbara Snyder’s husband has seen her through every degree up to a Ph.D.

“It was the best possible thing I could have done, because I had someone to talk to,” Snyder said. “He edited all my papers. My frustrations and joys were all shared with my partner. It made the burden of school that much lighter.”

A girl on Snyder’s freshman floor at La Salle University set her up with Tom, a junior at La Salle, and the couple went on a blind date. Afterward he came by to talk, and Snyder knew she was going to marry him.

When she came back to her dorm after cheerleading practice one day and opened her door to roses, a sapphire ring and a proposal, she said yes.

“I was the first person he ever dated, his first kiss, his first love,” Snyder said.

Not everything has been romantic.

“You have to think about all the unromantic pieces,” Snyder said, remembering cleaning up her sick husband’s vomit one morning.

Not everything was easy.

“You gave up a lot,” Snyder said. “You can’t just be footloose and fancy when you’re in college. There is food shopping and cleaning.”

And marriage was not for every student.

“I was a very mature, very driven, self-directed individual,” she said. “Students need to ask themselves the question – are they really ready for the financial, social and emotional commitment?”