Words by Kelly Powell
Multimedia by Chelsae Ketchum

Students tie the knot before tossing the tassel.

Honeymoon with Honors from KentWired.com on Vimeo.

It was college night at the ice rink, and Kent State sophomore Haley Keding was hand-in-hand and attempting figure skating tricks with Malone University freshman Jon Farrell. Earlier that day, the pair had explored Canton, Ohio, observing art and stopping by the McKinley Monument. Farrell was shaking, due to both the frigid temperatures and his inward thoughts.

What may seem like a typical college date night was actually something much more significant: a marriage proposal. Farrell asked Keding to be his wife Oct. 31, 2014.

Farrell and Keding are part of the 26 percent of Millennials vowing to spend their life together—a minority compared to the larger percentages of Generation X, Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation, according to Pew Research Center. Manfred van Dulmen, a Kent State psychology professor who specializes in young adult relationships, says marriage is an “uncommon trajectory” on the collegiate path.

The pair, however, have purpose behind their commitment: their decision is rooted in faith.

Farrell and Keding met each other at Medina High School, where they were both members of the marching band. The couple dated for two and a half years beginning when Keding was a sophomore and Farrell a junior. Post-high school, Farrell attended Kent State for a school year before breaking up with Keding and leaving the university. In turn, he experienced a downward spiral that would radically redirect the course of his life.

“I became super depressed, I was addicted to drugs, I was a reckless driver,” Farrell says. “In that, God started working. A pastor took me in and showed me who Jesus was. After a while, I thought, ‘I don’t wanna be doing this on my own.’ ”

Keding, through Kent State’s H2O Church, she attended a leadership training program in Colorado where she intended to focus on strengthening her faith.

“I idolized Jon. I told him, ‘I really enjoyed our relationship, but I’m going to focus on my faith,’ ” Keding says. Eventually, Farrell began sending her text messages and pictures with silly faces alongside the caption “Please talk to me.” These miniature pushes persuaded Keding to open up again. She thought she could share what she had been learning.

Because of Keding’s involvement with H2O Church, her and Farrell’s resilience and drive to say “I do” has been heavily influenced by the members of the congregation. However, even with this large community, the two are still part of a minority.

Engaged student couple Haley Keding and Jon Farrell spend time together ice skating at Lock 3 in Akron.

Marie Kunze, a senior English major, and alumnus Mark Cottrill have been engaged since November 29, 2013. Cottrill asked Kunze that night if they could spend some time together decorating for Christmas, their favorite holiday. He lit several candles and put Christmas music on as background noise. After some time, Cottrill changed the soundtrack and selected their song: “If It’s Love” by Train. Suddenly, he presented Kunze with an ornament flaunting a ring on top of it, posing the question, “How about you put this one up?” The proposal was sealed with a coincidental fireworks display outside Cottrill’s apartment window. “We were celebrating, crying and kissing,” Kunze says.

Kunze says she looks to break the stereotype—what she calls the “statistics and BS”—that because she and Cottrill are young, their marriage is bound to fail. Youth, however, is one of the main sources of fuel for the couple, who are driven by their love’s potential. “It’s incredibly exciting. We have the rest of forever together,” Kunze says. “We have time to continue to grow.”

While both couples believe their marriage is meant to happen, Kunze and Cottrill attribute their pairing to destiny. “Mark promised my dad that he would wait. I’m glad we waited. I’m a big believer in fate rather than faith,” Kunze says.

Instead, she credits her happiness to Cottrill. “It’s calming to have him as a constant. In this world, there are so many scary things. It’s so nice to have something positive. He really is my anchor and my foundation,” she says.

Farrell continues to keep his eyes fixed upward on what matters most to him. “Following God is my main role,” Farrell says. “Lots of people want to focus on schooling and studies. My grades and schooling are not who I am. That was relieving enough to maintain a relationship in college.”

However, undeniable obligations are still bound to creep up with Farrell and Keding. With the influx of a job, school, friends, extracurricular activities and family, time management is essential. “I need to block out time and make sure it’s worth it with marriage as the number one priority,” Keding says. Sometimes that means difficult choices, all the way from the minor details to the big-picture items. “Are we going to sacrifice credit hours?” Keding says.

Although the two carve out time for each other when they are able, it doesn’t change the fact that they attend universities more than 30 miles away from each other. Van Dulmen says long distance relationships require balancing both the needs of the relationship and the individual. While a couple should use the partnership for support, they should also, by default, maintain their unique identity.

Distance fails to faze Keding and Farrell, though. In fact, the pair revels in doing things that are outside the norm. “The American way is to go to college, get a job and get married. It isn’t necessarily bad,” Keding says.

Farrell also mentioned that there seems to be a pattern that Americans follow when mapping out the course of their lives. “They focus on getting the highest-paying job, getting the nicest things,” he says. “Once the kids get out of the house, they go on trips, retire, etcetera.”

At home in Medina, Haley Keding and her sister, Janine, look through a David’s Bridal catalog for wedding dress inspiration. Keding has yet to find her wedding dress, but she has a style in mind.

It can be difficult to balance both a college education and other pursuits, which can Dulmen attributes to an inability to multitask. Work and education often integrate their way into a relationship, and people have a tough time committing to each other.

According to “Knot Yet: The Benefits and Cost of Delayed Marriage in America,” being legally committed at a young age poses several disadvantages: lack of occupational stability, exploration time and living certainty.

Some Kent State students believe in playing now and settling later. “[Marriage in college] kind of holds you back,” says Alexis Gissentaner, senior fashion merchandising major. “You’re not able to meet new people or experience new things. You’re staying stuck.”

Other students take a more lenient stance on the matter. “A lot of people might think this age is too young, but it’s not up to anyone else. It’s not high school. We’re pretty much adults,” says Tyler Sanders, junior computer science major.

Farrell and Keding are confident in their philosophy and plan to wed in the summer of 2016, even with the rising tension from family. Keding’s parents believe their daughter and her fiancé lack the relationship experience and money to have a successful marriage. Still, Farrell and Keding are unmoved.

“We want to do what Christ wants, not what the world wants,” Keding says.

The couple would rather spend time with each other and be financially lacking than have money and be bogged down with work, Keding says. She and Farrell are both currently working part-time jobs; Keding interns for Flash Communications, and Farrell has a job at Panera Bread and was just hired at Aladdin’s Eatery as a server.

Haley Keding looks through a rack of wedding dresses at David’s Bridal. Some of her friends, her mom and her soon to be sister-in-law and mother-in-law went with her to help narrow down her options.

Fiscal responsibility has crept up on Kunze and Cottrill as well. Originally, the couple wanted to wait until after graduation to shell out the money for their wedding. They received opposition to marriage while in school, typically from friends and peers posing the question, “How are you going to afford it?” Kunze would answer with, “It’s called being an adult.” Since then, the pair has also decided on a summer 2016 wedding, for them, at Todaros in Akron, Ohio.

Essentially, a couple’s maturity level determines how successful they will be, van Dulmen says.
“If it is supportive, that’s beneficial,” he says. “If it’s abusive, that can have detrimental consequences. It depends on the qualities and the goals of the relationship.”

Because of these setbacks, marriage in college is becoming more rare. The phenomenon of “delayed marriage” experienced a steady incline between 1970 and 2011; the average age has jumped from 21 for women and 23 for men in the seventies to 27 for women and 29 for men, according to “Knot Yet.”

However, length of time together also seems to be a determining factor. The Kent State University Department of Psychological Sciences holds studies of student couples. The researchers found that the dissolution rate is fairly low for relationships lasting between a year and 18 months. Most pairs that partake in the study are “relatively stable” van Dulmen says, meaning they seem to have a good handle on the goals they want to reach and the ideals they want to set.

“He got into proposal speech mode, and I just thought, ‘Are you serious!’ “

For a couple that feels this stability, acknowledging the possibility that they could be part of a statistic is a nerve-wracking concept. However, Kunze refuses to let that or her surroundings shake her.

“No matter what your family, friends or Buzzfeed says, this is real,” she says. “There’s a reason for everything, and I have no regrets.”

Farrell and Keding emphasized the quasi-set of rules they went by when considering their relationship. “Find a rock solid couple that’s been together for 20 to 50 years,” Farrell says. “Surround yourself with these people and see what they’ve been doing. Try to mimic them in their relationship.” Keding attributes her wisdom to Eva Frank, the wife of H2O Church pastor Chad Frank. “You have to have five things you’re not going to budge on,” Keding says. “Compare who you’re dating to those things.”

With all this mind, Farrell and Keding are looking forward to commencing their future at Rivercrest Farm in Zoar, Ohio. They plan to hold the service in a field and then move the reception to a barn. As for the rest of the wedding, it’s still in its early stages.

After gliding on the ice for some time, Farrell decided it was time to pop the question. He recruited the ice arena staff to turn the music off and dim the lights so Keding could hear his proposal. Keding admits she was taken aback by the sudden change in Farrell’s demeanor.

“There’s a certain way that he holds my hands when he’s nervous,” she says. “He got into proposal speech mode, and I just thought, ‘Are you serious!’ I started putting all the pieces together, and I was mind-blown.” As Farrell stood up, staff members who had helped orchestrate the proposal revealed themselves. The crowd populating the periphery of the arena stood up and began cheering, celebrating Keding’s response of, “Yes.”