Committing to wedding vows before commencement


Melissa Dillon

Alexander and Jadyn Atkinson. Photo by Melissa Dillon.

Melissa Puppo

One early summer evening in 2013, Tom Smigel sat with his girlfriend Jesika at his apartment, simply enjoying each other’s company. He handed over a fortune cookie, which she opened up, and a sudden smirk appeared on her face.

The fortune read, “A big change in your life is coming.” Following their usual routine, she also opened up Smigel’s fortune cookie, which read, “Will you marry me?

A glowing smile appeared on Jesika’s face as she answered him with the reply Smigel had hoped to receive — a yes.

While college students of this generation might be casually dating, the senior electronic media production major is just one college student of many who has found “the one” at this time in his college career — a time where paying rent and finding a job come high on the priority list.

Smigel met his current wife on the first day of one of his classes.

“I just noticed her immediately when she walked in on the first day, and I pretty much decided to sit with her every class after that day,” Smigel said. “She is a very different girl. She’s got basically a whole sleeve of tattoos and red hair  — she just fits my personality. We complement each other very well.”

The couple dated just shy of three years before Smigel proposed to Jesika April 16, 2013. They were engaged for about three months before they married August 3 in Jesika’s backyard — her parents’ 20 acres of land were used as the backdrop for their wedding vows. They cleared a path into the woods, cut down trees and hung ribbons.

Smigel and his wife live in a one-bedroom apartment in Jordan Court. He said it doesn’t feel like they’re married because they’re still in school and always busy working.

“Basically, we don’t see each other,” Smigel joked. “We’re really busy right now. She manages a bar downtown. We’re both full time students — I have two jobs, she had multiple jobs, so we really don’t see each other that much, but we see each other when we can.”

Justin Dodson, a staff member of Cru, a nondenominational campus ministry at Kent State, has been working with the organization for eight years. Through his time at the university, he has helped to not only teach the word of God, but he also acts as a marriage counselor with his wife, Emily, for students.

“Marriage isn’t perfect,” Dodson said. “It becomes very real, very quick. [You have to figure out] how are you going to make it work — not just survive, but thrive.”

For his marriage counseling, Dodson uses the book “Preparing for Marriage.” He said topics that come up include communication, roles and responsibilities, money, sex, making decisions, God’s plan for marriage and expectations.

Dodson said it’s fun to counsel couples because he gets to discuss each couple’s background and family life so they can learn more about themselves, as well as the other person.

“You get to wrestle through and walk through everybody’s expectations and desires going into marriage, and they’re all different,” Dodson said. “It’ a lot of fun to see it happen and watch God bring two people together.”

A pastor married Smigel and his wife and made them go through marriage counseling beforehand. At each meeting, the couple dissected anything they felt could be a problem many years down the road.

“We sort of said ‘Are we ready for this, can we handle this when it comes to it, will we make it through?’ And we thought for sure we could make it through,” Smigel said. “Everything’s been [going well].”

Dodson also helped counsel senior advertising major Jadyn Atkinson and her fiancé, Alexander, who married on Aug. 18, 2012.

“I just knew early on what I was looking for, so when I found it, I wasn’t going to let it go,” Atkinson said about what is was like finding her best friend and husband in college.

Atkinson and her husband have been living apart since June, however. He graduated first and only applied for one job — even though it’s three hours away. They each have been taking turns driving to see one another on the weekends.

Atkinson said one of the difficulties when getting married in college is deciding who’s going to take a job that’s possibly father away, who’s going to pursue a career and who’s going to have to follow the other.

“Even though we both love each other, our careers are really important to us as well, Atkinson said. “That’s just something you have to sacrifice for your husband or your significant other. That’s been the most difficult part just getting over that sacrifice, but it’s a good sacrifice because it’s for your loved one.”

Others know they found the one, but are waiting to tie the knot.

Hannah Szabo, a sophomore human development and family studies major, finishes off her busy day at Kent State by meeting up with her fiancé of roughly five months at his apartment, or he’ll meet Szabo at her place. They spend the evenings cooking dinner together, hanging out or going out.  

Szabo’s fiancé, Evan Fullerton, currently goes to Akron but will be transferring to Kent State next fall.

“We want to wait until we graduate [to get married] so it will be easier because planning a wedding is already so stressful. We’ve talked about it but haven’t set a date yet,” Szabo said.

The couple met their summer of eighth grade going into ninth grade through mutual friends. After hanging out for about a year, they started dating around the age of 15.

“He was my first boyfriend, so it was different, but we were just really good friends,” Szabo said about what made her stick with Fullerton throughout the years. “We had a lot in common, and there was hardly anything we didn’t agree upon or argue about so it was pretty easy.”

Szabo said her and her boyfriend both know they’re supposed to be with each other.

“He’s pretty much one of my best friends,” Szabo said. “I tell him everything, he tells me everything; there’s no secrets. It’s just exciting to think about the future and growing up and thinking about our life and eventually a family.”

Sometimes being in college makes a person realize he or she isn’t ready for marriage, though. This is true for Hannah Combs, a sophomore human development and family studies major who got engaged to Kyle Cook Dec. 23, 2012. The engagement ended the following April 16.

Combs thought she was ready to get married to Cook, who is in the military, and spend the rest of her life with him.

“In the military they marry very young,” Cook said. “I have a bunch of friends who are married to military men — they’re 18, 19, 20 years old, and it seemed like the norm. The military makes that the only way you can maintain a relationship. [You have to] get married because as the girlfriend, you can’t stay on base with them so it makes it very hard. He got stationed oversees, and so we thought that was our only way to be together, and we thought we were ready to do it. But we weren’t.”

Combs said she faced many struggles while trying to balance a relationship with Cook during her freshman year at Kent State.

“I was trying to balance a college life and finding time to talk to him because he was on a different time schedule,” Combs said. “I wouldn’t hang out with my friends — I wasn’t trying to make friends because my whole life was revolving around him. I thought I was happy doing that, but looking back, I really was not very happy.”

Combs had a plane ticket to visit Cook in Korea, but she received an unexpected call from him 28 days before she was set to leave. He told her that he didn’t want to get married.

Combs said she felt like Cook was the only person she could picture herself with. She said she made the mistake of thinking four years was enough to know if she was ready to marry someone.

“There are some people who are ready to get married in college, but as a general rule of thumb, I think it’s better to wait until you’re steady on your feet. Because committing yourself to one person the rest of your life is such a big deal,” Combs said. “I think it’s important to find yourself. You really have to know who you are before you let someone in.”

Dodson said marriage is a step of faith. He encourages people to really think about marriage as being hard work and a commitment.

“My best advice is are you willing to love that person and respect that person because you’re going to have to revisit that a lot in marriage,” Dodson said. “Marriages take work and you’ve got to be willing to die to yourself and sacrifice yourself sometimes for the other person. That’s life.”

Contact Melissa Puppo at [email protected]