The day after the interview at the University of Maryland, Remy Shaffer woke up to her cell phone ringing and heard, "Congratulations, you won!" Her boyfriend, Casey Gomes, woke up to her screaming as she ran down the stairs to his room at his parents' house in Rhode Island. She handed the phone to him, trying to catch her breath.
They had won a wedding.
Shaffer's mom started crying when they called to tell her. Her dad -- who had just paid for the wedding of one of his three daughters -- was ecstatic. Gomes's mom started yelling in celebration at her office, and over the phone line he could hear the women she worked with yelling, too. His aunt and uncle popped open champagne for them that night.
Remy and Casey's dream wedding, as it's now known on the University of Maryland alumni Web site, took place Saturday in College Park. They celebrated at the new alumni center, in the shadow of Byrd Stadium. The bridesmaids wore red, the color of the big M on the floor upstairs. Alums voted on the details, including her dress, the flowers and the food.
Weddings are taking place on campuses across Maryland this time of year, and some colleges now actively promote their chapels and halls. Receptions bring in money during slow summer months: Renting a large space at the University of Maryland's alumni center for four hours costs a few thousand dollars.
Even more important, said Rae Goldsmith of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, are the emotional ties a campus wedding can build, sometimes launching a lifetime of giving to the school.
With schools trying to strengthen their relationships with alumni, what better way to foster a long-term commitment than a wedding?
Some schools, such as the U.S. Naval Academy, have long hosted many weddings. Others, not so much. State schools with blocky brick and cement buildings and limited parking can be a hard sell.
Although St. Mary's College of Maryland has a beautiful garden overlooking a curve of river -- and gets lots of requests for weddings -- it can handle only very small, informal weddings, said Kathy Grimes, the college's assistant vice president for development. The school doesn't have an indoor site to offer in a sudden downpour.
"We can't stop people from walking by playing Frisbee, either," she said. "We try to undersell it to people, because we don't want anyone to be disappointed."
Many schools, however, encourage brides and grooms. Salisbury University, on the Eastern Shore, offers its wood-paneled great hall and gardens with vine-laced pergolas, statues and fountains. The University of Maryland Eastern Shore stays busy with weddings all summer; it gets so many requests it has to turn people away.
The College Park campus's chapel hosts a few hundred weddings each year. It held a wedding expo in May, and the spring issue of Terp Magazine has a full-page ad with lilies and graceful script inviting alums to the Samuel Riggs IV Alumni Center, "the Washington, D.C., area's newest premier wedding venue."
The idea for the wedding contest came as staff members were brainstorming ideas to promote the potential uses for the $33 million privately funded complex, which includes a rotunda with an Italian marble floor, a sleek, red and black club area and a hall lined with tall glass windows looking out on the garden.
They came up with an idea for an alumni magazine story on the 50th anniversary of Memorial Chapel. "There was a wonderful vintage photo of one of the first couples to marry in the chapel. We asked our readers 'Did you meet your spouse at the university?' and got this tremendous response," said Beth Morgen, communications director for the Alumni Association.
The executive director, Danita Nias, thought of a wedding contest, like the ones on television. They put an ad in the magazine asking couples to submit essays and show their Terp spirit.
Shaffer and Gomes met in College Park in 1999 while going through training to be resident assistants in the dorms. She was a senior and he was a sophomore. When she got a phone call from him just before Halloween, she didn't call back right away because she thought he was going to ask her to cover his RA shift so he could go to Halloween parties. She mentioned it to her mom, who said, "You were raised better than that!"
So she called him back, and he asked her whether she would be his date to his fraternity's Halloween hayride.
"That was it," Gomes said. "We've been together ever since."
By fall 2003, they knew they wanted to get married. That was the easy part; the hard part was choosing where. They both love their home towns and couldn't decide which one to pick. So when they saw the ad they said, "Ohhhhhh, College Park! We can get married in College Park!"
"Rhode Island is me," Gomes said. He grew up on the ocean, in Narragansett. "Baltimore is Remy. College Park is us. We had an awesome experience here as undergraduates, and it felt really natural to come back here to be married."
They were the contest committee's unanimous choice, a shoo-in out of the 30 couples who applied, said Linda Roth, director of corporate and community events for the Alumni Association. "Their Terp spirit, their enthusiasm -- and they're just so cute," she said.
They were both student leaders, have great memories of school and visit College Park as often as they can, even if just for a chicken sandwich at R.J. Bentley's on the way to Washington.
Gomes remembers climbing up to the very top seats in Byrd Stadium -- high enough to give a view of the Washington Monument -- to watch a meteor shower late one night. Shaffer remembers leading tours around campus, and seeing protesters on a spring day and marveling at the different kinds of students there. They celebrated basketball victories with huge, ecstatic crowds. She was the commencement speaker for her college's graduation in 2000.
Now in their mid-twenties, they moved to the Baltimore area after Shaffer finished graduate school in Ohio. Gomes works as a consultant and is pursuing a graduate degree.
They're close with their families -- no crazy relatives making impossible demands for the wedding. No drama. They were both happy to get married June 25, the only date the alumni center offered.
And Shaffer's favorite color is red.
Gomes and Shaffer have gone to a couple of events to help promote the alumni center, including a Valentine's Day party and the wedding expo, and they worried initially that the ceremony might not feel personal enough. They wanted a wedding, not a pep rally.
Testudo, the giant turtle mascot, was not invited.
She was a little nervous about giving up control of so many details -- she's a planner, she said, a Type A person who doesn't leave things to chance -- and especially worried about her wedding dress. What if the alums picked some hideous sack?
But they were been delighted with the results, they said. (They also made sure to remind their friends to vote, just in case.) She chose three dresses at Annapolis Formal; alums voted online for her rum-pink satin strapless dress, beaded with crystals around the waist. Alums also chose her bouquet, the centerpieces and the food and could even hear the band on the Web site.
"I have no idea how much this cost," Gomes said.
"I think I would have heart failure," she said.
In fact, it cost about $30,000, almost all of it donated. Every weekend at the alumni center is now booked through the end of the year; about half are for weddings, Roth said. May and June weekends for 2006 are already booked for weddings.
On Saturday, Remy and Casey got married at Memorial Chapel, celebrated at the alumni center, and then left for their honeymoon -- and no, it's not in College Park.