Pandemic Wedding Pivots Keep Celebrations Special

Tufts couples, a justice of the peace, and a caterer reflect on a year that upended celebrations but could not squelch their joy
A couple in wedding attire embraces in front of a waterfall.
A change of wedding plans for Gabrielle String, EG13, EG17, and Steven Brindak led to a short (and secret) hike to a waterfall. “After we eloped, we couldn't stop talking about how incredibly at peace and happy we felt,” says String. Photo: Nicole Wagner
June 16, 2021

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As the pandemic upended wedding plans over the past year, couples scrambled to find ways to celebrate their “Big Day” while still taking the necessary public health precautions. Should they postpone or proceed? Could a Zoom event feel special? Here, some resourceful members of the Tufts community—both those embarking on marriage and those who help couples on their special day—share some of their creative responses to the challenge. Lessons for all: Never underestimate s’mores or a waterfall.

Backyard BBQ and campfire
Kirsten Wallerstedt Strong, F12

Kirsten Wallerstedt Strong, F12, celebrated her wedding with borrowed lawn games. Photo: honey + sage photography We decided to keep our October 2020 wedding date but move it to my in-laws’ backyard. We rented a tent, borrowed tables/chairs from a friend's church, hired a caterer to BBQ, and rented an ice cream truck. Friends and family pitched in to help, and my maid of honor was Meghan Healy Luecke, F12. Our guests played borrowed lawn games and we stocked an open bar with someone's sister as a bartender. We borrowed speakers to play a Spotify playlist off the back porch. A good friend made a beautiful wedding cake for us, and we got my favorite Georgetown Cupcakes to supplement. We had a campfire with s'mores to end the night. We still could invite only about 50 people due to needing to be able to fit everyone, with social distancing, under the tent in case of rain. It was a fun, casual, special day with much less pressure than a "normal" wedding. Several people told us it was the best wedding they'd ever been to!

 

Eloped, and loved it
Gabrielle String, EG13, EG17
 

Gabrielle String, EG13, EG17, and her partner legally self-united in the Poconos. Photo: Nicole Wagner at Custom by NicoleI completed my MS and PhD in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and have been working as a postdoc in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering ever since. My partner, Steven, and I had planned a wedding in my hometown in Pennsylvania for August 2020. Once the pandemic hit, we knew it was not going to be possible to host our event even though it was at an outdoor venue. However, postponing to July 2021 was a huge challenge in navigating with our vendors as restrictions in Pennsylvania were looser than they were for us in Massachusetts and for Steve's family in New York. By the end of the process, we were burnt out and felt like all the joy had been sucked out of what should have been a celebratory time. So, with two weeks to spare we decided to elope on October 22, 10 years to the day after we began dating! I quickly got a dress, and we hired a photographer. Our anniversary was a Thursday, so we drove down to the Poconos after my office hours Wednesday night and to keep it a complete secret we hurried back Thursday night as I had a lab class to teach on Friday morning.

It was absolutely perfect in every way; we legally self-united after a short hike to a waterfall! After we eloped, we couldn't stop talking about how incredibly at peace and happy we felt after a chaotic year. We kept our elopement secret from almost everyone. However, prior to the elopement, a couple of my students had overheard a phone call I took with my tailor, so they knew loosely what I was doing. The Friday afterwards was a bit surreal to be out in the field sampling with the students, but also fun to be able to share our elopement story. In perfect 2020 fashion, we did our family Thanksgivings over Zoom and surprised everyone by sharing a slide show of pictures from our elopement.

Now that vaccines are here, we are grateful to be able to move ahead with a wedding celebration with our original vendors this July—one "officiated" by our friend Andrew Hubble, [EG15], a former MechE classmate. While the elopement was perfect, we’re very excited to celebrate with our family and friends and to see everyone in-person again! 

 

Live streaming to global guests
S. Paran Yap,
 MBS12, M17, MG18

S. Paran Yap, MBS12, M17, MG18, and his wife were married with relatives in California, Nigeria, and Ireland watching on Zoom. Photo: Tanya MaximovaMy now-wife Melody and I were looking forward to our wedding on May 29, 2020. We originally booked an appointment at Sacramento City Hall. But our families thought differently! I’m Chinese-American, from Southern California, and my wife is from Warri, Nigeria. Both families wanted to celebrate in a traditional, big way, with hundreds of guests, and both wanted a pastor to officiate. We wanted to respect them and so started looking at possible destination wedding locations. But by late March all those venues were suddenly canceling events, and of course nobody could travel anyway.
 
So we converted the city hall wedding to an appointment for our marriage license and a small virtual wedding at my house (now our home), complete with flowers, photographer, and pastor. It was outside in the garden alleyway, which is only about the size of a large bedroom. The flowers at least made it look more like a wedding, and then just before going live on Zoom I realized we also needed music. So I downloaded the playlist “Best Wedding Mix Ever” on my phone and played it on a boombox.

We had, all in all, a wonderful mini wedding. Our family members were there, in a way, because I attached my phone to a tripod and installed Zoom on it and shared the link with everyone, including not only family in California, Nigeria, and Ireland, but also many of my friends from Tufts School of Medicine. My brother-in-law also walked around with a GoPro so he could get different angles of the event. It was a little crazy because we live downtown, and there’s a lot of foot traffic by the house. So people were walking by on the sidewalk and, upon seeing this little production, couldn’t help taking pictures of us! 

Our plans for a big ceremony are still evolving, as we now have a baby on the way. But we hope to celebrate again with everyone. Even if it’s not an official wedding, we will have a great time celebrating our marriage–and our new family.

 

On the Hill, where it started
Anna Daren, A14

Anna Daren, A14, and Jonathan Sokolski, A14, painted the cannon to celebrate their wedding. Photo: Andrea Servidone Pelto of Servidone StudiosAfter being engaged for 18 months, my now-husband Jonathan Sokolski, A14, and I decided we were getting married on June 28, 2020—rain or shine, pandemic or not. We postponed our 200+ person wedding (for the first of two times), and instead decided to tie the knot back where it all began—on the Hill. With eight of our family members, we dodged the rain (because of course it rained) and made it official as we overlooked the President's Lawn. Silver lining: We got to paint the cannon the night before, which shockingly neither of us had ever done when we were students. We are looking forward to finally getting to celebrate with some of our family and friends on June 27 in Connecticut. Tufts has always had a special place in our hearts, as that’s where we met as seniors, and now, even more so, as it's where we started our marriage!

 

Worth the wait
Clark Frye, F17

Clark Frye, F17, and his partner, Rob, photographed for their Save the Date cards, have postponed their wedding twice. Photo: Isabel TalanehzarAfter many years of dating, Rob and I finally got engaged on a romantic Belize getaway in the spring of 2018. Since we weren't in any rush, we eyed a spring 2020 wedding in sunny Puerto Rico, paying homage to Rob's roots, and scheduled a raucous week of fun in the sun for our guests. Alas, that wasn't in the cards. We had to cancel two weeks before our big day, and postponed to spring 2021...Strike two! By the time we finally get hitched next spring, we'll have been engaged for four years! But it will be worth it to celebrate the way we want, with our friends and family safely around us.

 

A catering sales manager pivots
Amy Hamilton, Tufts Dining

Amy Hamilton, catering sales manager for Tufts Dining, stands at Bowen Gate. Legend has it that couples who kiss in the archway later marry. Photo: Laura FergusonI am a catering sales manager for Tufts and for the past year there have been no events. I am very lucky because I was given the opportunity to pivot to work on a project that had previously been on the back burner for years. That project was creating wedding packages. In the past we mostly catered meetings and conferences, with very few weddings. Weddings require a lot more time and attention than other events and we were always so busy, weddings were not a priority. But in March 2020, everything changed. Most of my colleagues throughout the events industry were losing their jobs. I felt extremely blessed to have continued employment, and I wanted to use this time to make a positive impact. That is how I began working on creating Tufts Weddings! I knew back in April 2020 that when the pandemic was over, there would be an increased need for wedding venues. I did not know that we would still be battling COVID over a year later, nor did I know that it would take over a year to complete my project—but here we are!

 

Grateful to downsize
Jamie Wells, A20, V24

Jamie Wells, A20, V24, held a smaller wedding due to the pandemic. Photo: Kristen RossChristian and I met in high school, and we celebrated our engagement in Goddard Chapel at the end of the fall semester in 2019. He’s a Northeastern grad, and we spent a lot of time together in Goddard Chapel at mass with the Catholic community at Tufts.

We initially planned a large wedding in a barn venue—and with horses, partly because of my veterinary interests—for August 2020, with about 250 people, but this was cancelled in June. Luckily, cases were low enough in Rhode Island in August that we were able to have a socially distanced church ceremony in August 2020 of about 100 people. We were lucky to have our wedding while COVID numbers were very low and we were grateful to have been able to downsize; we had a more intimate wedding, which is what we wanted all along. We also enjoyed the small scale of our receptions; we followed the wedding with two small, tailored receptions at the East Greenwich Fireman's Club, one for family and one for friends. For an update, we are both vaccinated and planning a honeymoon in Acadia National Park around our first anniversary.

 

Finding inspiration in creativity
Regina Pacitti, J75, AG76 

Justice of the Peace Regina Pacitti, J75, AG76, has officiated at more intimate, outdoor weddings during the pandemic. Photo: Courtesy of Regina PacittiOnce I retired 11 years ago from school social work, I could devote more time to my second gig; I’d been a Massachusetts commissioned Justice of the Peace part-time since 1994. In 2020, I officiated 34 weddings: double my usual amount! It was certainly more challenging as state COVID guidelines had to be followed.
My ceremonies were almost always outdoors with masking and social distancing. They were intimate ceremonies with few guests. Often they were on my backyard deck. Sometimes they were in the backyard of the couple's friend or family member. Quite a few were in the gazebo on the Waltham Common. Sometimes the couple had planned an extravaganza, which had to be toned down, as, for example, the couple who rented a mansion for over 100 guests and pivoted to immediate family in a cemetery! Sometimes when one member of the couple was overseas, there was a lengthy delay to their date.

Not only was this "work" a distraction from my life suddenly devoid of travel and friends, but it was inspirational. Love conquers all or, as I like to say, “Stay Calm and Say I Do.”