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Valentine's puzzle

By Richard Burnett

Through the years, many Beacon College students have found love in all the right places. The same common ground that brought them to Beacon in the first place has opened new pathways to romance, often for the first time.

“For many of our students, this is the first place where they feel truly accepted by their peers,” said Dr. A.J. Marsden, an associate professor of human services and psychology. “They aren’t ridiculed or laughed at because of their learning differences — in fact, they celebrate their differences.”

Not surprisingly, bonds are formed, friendships grow and romantic connections emerge in this newfound atmosphere of acceptance, she said.

“Many of our students have their first romantic relationships at Beacon,” Marsden noted. “And with their shared experiences and difficulties in overcoming adversities, many of those relationships become lifelong.”

While there’s no formal study of the “marriage rate” for couples who met at Beacon, it would not be surprising if that rate keeps pace with, if not exceeds, the national average. (A 2019 survey by Facebook’s data science unit found 30% of couples who meet in college end up getting married, although it can range as high as 60%).

For this Valentine’s Day, let’s reminisce with some of those couples shared their love stories:

Breaking the ice “on a desert island”

Heather Reed and Brett Daly Wedding

When Heather Reed met Brett Daly, the first thing they talked about was what they would need if they were ever stranded on a desert island. For the logically-minded Brett, it was a question of practicality — certainly a knife, fishing net, hammock, and bug spray, to start with.

For the fun-loving Heather, there was no hesitation: Chocolates!!

“We still laugh about that,” Brett said, recalling the icebreaking activity at Beacon College’s freshman orientation in 2011. “From a practical standpoint, I asked Heather what she would do with candy on a desert island. I guess I expected some logical answer, but her answer ended up being just that she liked chocolate.”

Heather & Brett visit Seattle Nov 2019 Fast forward to this year. The Dalys have merged the journey of their lives from friendship, courtship, engagement, and marriage. Heather, 37, graduated in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in web and digital media. She is now Beacon’s assistant director of admissions. Brett, 35, also a 2014 graduate, got a bachelor’s in computer information systems. He is an e-learning support specialist II for Embry Riddle University in Daytona Beach.

The Dalys clearly enjoy telling their love story. There’s still fresh magic and charm to the tale — from that first orientation and their first date (a study session, with “Game of Thrones” on in the background) to their wedding day in 2019, set to the rhythm of “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.”

The relationship grew amid shared experiences and distinct differences. Heather was an extroverted resident assistant who led that first orientation group; Brett was the quiet, socially awkward thinker who needed someone to bring him out of his shell. A good example happened when the orientation group went bowling together. Brett remembers being in the background at first, watching in awe at Heather’s contagious enthusiasm.

“There was a moment, when I just decided I wanted to get know this person better and see where it led,” he said. “It was like I was coming out of the shadows and falling in love with Heather.”

As the relationship grew, they connected about their learning disabilities and stressful experiences in high school. Heather was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, auditory processing disorder, and dyscalculia; Brett, with generalized anxiety disorder.

After graduating from high school somewhat soured on the educational system, both took jobs hoping to flourish in the workforce. Brett worked at Radio Shack and other retail outlets. Heather worked at a car dealership and community college book store. But they were frustrated in the workplace as well. That eventually led them to Beacon.

For Heather, coming to Beacon was like having a reset in her life, of being able to figure out who she was, to take ownership of her disability, take control of her education and to turn around and help others.

“As I came to Beacon, I was never expecting that I would find someone to fall in love with and spend the rest of my life with,” she said. “Then I met Brett and that changed everything. It was fun and I was happy. It was such a strange feeling to be at school and be happy. It was wonderful.”

Brett said he had a similar reset at Beacon, regaining the confidence he had lost earlier in his life, finding himself academically and experiencing love — with Heather playing the key role in his renaissance.

“To anyone who is still looking for the right one, I would say just keep hope alive,” Brett said. “I know it can be easy to lose confidence and get down on yourself. I mean, in high school, I was never what you’d call a ‘lady’s man,’ and that experience was tough. It could have led me to believe I’d never find someone. But I just kept on going, kept on having hope, and I did find the happiness I was looking for.”

Take us out to the ball game

Valentine's heart

Shanie Healy will never forget meeting her future husband, Ian, years ago at Beacon’s student apartments. As she helped a friend unpack the car to start the school year, Ian and a friend showed up, offering help.

“I was drawn to him, immediately,” said Shanie, a native of Palo Alto, California. “Number one, because he was wearing a [Baltimore] Orioles tee shirt and while that’s not my team, I’m a big, big sports fan. He was also funny and made us laugh, so I knew he had a good sense of humor and I liked it. I thought to myself, ‘I’ve gotta keep an eye on him.’”

Twenty-five years later, the Healys have been married nearly two decades. Shanie, 47, finished Beacon in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in human services. She is a martial arts instructor and works in dining logistics for the University of California at Santa Barbara. Ian, 45, graduated in 2001, with a bachelor’s in computer information systems. He is a client services representative for Inogen Inc., which provides patients with home oxygen services.

When they met in 1997, Beacon was still in its nascent stages, with only about 40 students on campus. They ended up in the same math class and became fast friends. The friendship grew when Shanie, who struggled with math, asked Ian, a math whiz, to become her tutor. They began dating about a year later.

As the romance bloomed, they bonded over their love of sports, travel, humor and family as well as their mutual struggles with learning disabilities. While getting high marks in other subjects, Shanie’s problems in math worsened, as she experienced math anxiety and general anxiety. Meanwhile, while excelling in math, Ian managed a reading comprehension disorder. 

In their relationship, they found strength in each other — Shanie from Ian’s calm, steady presence, and he from her positive outgoing energy. Less than two years after they started dating, they were engaged.

Ian recalled their engagement: “It was at the end of the year and I remember thinking how much I was going to miss Shanie during the summer, the sadness I would feel,” he said. “I had never been in a serious relationship like that before. I knew I wanted something long term with her. When we got back together in August, I had to find out if it was mutual. Fortunately, it was….”

The Healys married on June 23, 2002 in Shanie’s hometown of Santa Barbara, where they now live and work. It was a warm, crystal clear, sunlit day — defying the notorious “June Swoon” fog that often envelops that city during the month. 

After the ceremony, they entered the reception hall to the tune “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” and took their first dance steps as a married couple to Chicago’s “You’re My Inspiration.”

“I’d have to say there were some nerves,” Ian said. “I did take a few deep breaths at the altar. But when I saw Shanie come down the aisle on her father’s arm, I knew everything was alright. It was one of the best days of our lives.”

Let nothing come between you

Emily and Ari Wedding

In her Beacon College student apartment, Emily Abramson wept uncontrollably. No matter how much she tried, she couldn’t solve her math problems. Just like high school, it didn’t make sense. And once again she feared failure.

Then she heard a familiar knock on the door: Her boyfriend Ari Berkowitz was reporting for duty. He knew the variables, theorems, equations and how they all fit. Plus, he had the gift of being able to explain it to her.

“There would be days I’d be just pulling my hair out and he’d always know what to do,” said Emily, recalling the early times of their relationship. “He would come in, get a cup of tea, sit down and talk with me for however long it took. It could be minutes or hours, it wouldn’t matter. He would explain it perfectly and I would finally understand.”

Emily and Ari hug In those calming, patient moments, Ari won Emily’s heart and laid the foundation for a relationship that would be lifelong. “It was another way he showed me how much he cared for me,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘wow, this man really loves me’.”

Nearly six years later, the couple married in Rockville, Maryland, in a picturesque ceremony surrounded by the region’s rolling hills. Their wedding song was fitting for two people who had been nearly inseparable since their first day on Beacon campus: “Let Nothing Come Between You” by classic rocker Warren Zevon.

Today, they live in suburban Washington D.C., where Ari, 24, works as a data specialist for Rapid Finance, a small business online lender. He graduated in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems. Emily, 28, is an early childhood educator who works with learning-challenged children. She graduated in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in human services and psychology, with a concentration in education.

Their journey together at Beacon began on the first day of freshman orientation in 2015. Emily spied Ari at an event and was immediately attracted to him. Ever the chatty extravert, she introduced herself and promptly told Ari she thought he was cute. Though shy and reserved, Ari returned the compliment. Within a week, they were on their first date and rest was history.

“In some ways, it was kind of an opposites-attract type relationship,” said Ari, regarding his own shyness and Emily’s outgoing ways. “A lot of people have commented on how much we complement each other. When I got to Beacon, I hadn’t had a lot of experience with dating, so I was really lucky I found someone like Emily who obviously liked me.”

As they got to know each other, it wasn’t long before they talked about their learning disabilities. Earlier in life, both had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a developmental disorder on the autism spectrum. Unable to speak when she was a young child, Emily’s diagnosis came when she was four years old; Ari’s when he was in high school.

Through counseling and therapy, Emily gradually overcame her communication issues and did well in school except for her chronic problems with math. Eventually, at Beacon, she was diagnosed with the math cognition disorder known as dyscalculia and math anxiety. Ari’s patient tutoring helped her navigate the math hazards, while Emily helped him with English composition and reading comprehension.

“I opened up to Ari pretty fast,” Emily said. “We had a ton of classes together, so we already felt that kind of connection. We had the commonality of learning disabilities, and we would spend hours talking to each other about it.”

Such openness and honesty have played a key role in their relationship as it has matured through the years, the couple said. Being patient, sharing your feelings, doing things with each other and learning how to compromise are some other best practices for a marriage, they said.

Overall, singer Warren Zevon said it well in Emily and Ari’s favorite song: “Don’t Let Anything Come Between You:”

“I have advice for the young and old, if I may be so bold,” he sings. “When you find someone to have and hold, don’t let nothing come between you.”