VCU love stories

Three couples share how the university played matchmaker and brought them together

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With more than 30,000 students, roughly 20,000 employees and 170,000-plus living alumni, it’s hard to guess just how many couples have gotten their start at Virginia Commonwealth University. But whether they met in the classroom, the office, the lab, the playing field, or the hallway, for countless couples, VCU will always hold a special place in their hearts for bringing them together with their better halves.

Following are three of their stories.


Marc and Claire Cerri

Veteran and VCU alumnus Marc Cerri first spotted Claire Anderson in fall 2008 on his way to a government class the two shared in Harris Hall. But he wasn’t the type of guy who could approach a stranger and start a conversation. Claire sat near the front of the large lecture hall, so every week, Mark would sit one row closer to the front until, finally, he was sitting right behind her.  

“I knew immediately that there was something special about her and I had to find a way to talk to her,” he said. He finally got the opportunity while they waited outside of class for a teaching assistant who never showed up.

“She had a clipboard with her name on it and I knew that was going to be my best opportunity,” Marc said. “I asked her, ‘Are you Claire?’ She looked at me a little strange, and looking back on it now it must have been a little off-putting having a stranger talk to her who already knew her name. Still, it gave me the chance to introduce myself to her.”

Luckily, Claire was not too disconcerted, and the two started dating in January 2009. Marc proposed in May 2012. He wanted to use one of the alumni bricks in Shafer Court to pop the question, but the bricks are only installed in batches.  There just weren’t enough to be put in the ground and Marc didn’t want to wait.

So Marc did the next best thing, hiding the brick — reading “Claire Anderson WILL YOU MARRY ME?” — in the garden of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, where they attend church. He surprised Claire the day before her graduation.

“We were thrilled when it was put into one of the panels near the Compass,” Claire  said. “It was such an original proposal, and I love that our brick will always lead us back to where we met, surrounded by the campus that brought us together.”

Ijuanzee and Shanza Isom

When Ijuanzee Isom was a student at VCU in 2000, he often passed a fellow undergraduate on his walks to and from class. He thought she was beautiful. It took him a while to work up the courage to say anything. What he said was, “Hi.”

“I’ll never forget the satisfaction of that gamble paying off and her saying, ‘Hi,’ back,” Ijuanzee said.

He continued to say “Hi” to her at their impromptu campus run-ins, but that was as much as he dared utter. Then, in early 2001, Ijuanzee’s sister, Shajuana Payne, who worked at VCU, hatched a plot to introduce her little brother to the nice young woman working in her office as a new student orientation assistant. Ijuanzee agreed to come into the office to meet her. And there she was, Ijuanzee said, “my ‘Hi’ fantasy standing in front of me.”

The student, whose name was Shanza, thought Ijuanzee seemed like a good guy, but she wasn’t interested in a relationship. Then, she was invited to a party thrown by Ijuanzee and Shajuana’s family. Ijuanzee drove her. They clicked. Soon they were dating.

Moments into 2003, not long after the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Day, Ijuanzee proposed in front of his family – asking by writing “Marry Me” in Sharpie on a V-necked T-shirt that Shanza often teased him about – and she accepted, through happy tears.

The couple celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary in September, and they have two young children. They’ve never left VCU. Ijuanzee is now a faculty recruitment program coordinator in the provost’s office, and Shanza, who earned a master’s degree in social work at VCU, is an instructor of field education in the School of Social Work. They still meet on campus and go out to lunch. Shajuana, who Shanza jokes “takes all the credit for us,” still works here, too, as executive director of advising in University College.

Shanza said her failure to track names and faces is a running joke with family and friends. And the truth was that though she’d been returning her future husband’s greetings routinely on campus, she didn’t register him and had no idea who he was when they were formally introduced. However, she loves to hear him tell the story of his determined early courtship – the one she didn’t notice.

“I think it’s the sweetest thing,” she said.


Sam and Lauren Yerkes

On a Wednesday afternoon in early 2012, Lauren Edwards, a VCU student in the Master of Public Health program, was sitting in a Richmond restaurant eating with a few family members.

At the same time, Sam Yerkes was racing toward Richmond from his job in Newport News with some exciting information.

The two had been in a long-distance relationship since opportunities led them to separate cities a few years earlier.

“Things were definitely tough,” Sam said. “We both wanted a more serious relationship but that was difficult because we only saw each other on the weekends.”

“We were unable to see each other for days or even weeks at a time due to our busy schedules,” Lauren said. “I just always wanted to be able to spend time with him.”

Eventually an opportunity for change arose. Sam applied for a job in the VCU Global Education Office and heard back about the office’s decision on that Wednesday in 2012. He immediately got in his car and aimed for Richmond.

“When I got there, I came up behind her and just tapped her on the shoulder.”

“I turned around and there Sam was!”

“She was shocked and stood up to greet me with a hug and kiss. The first thing I said was, ‘I got the job,’ and that’s when she started crying.”

“I was so thrilled and so excited that a man sitting at the next table saw the whole surprise and said, ‘With a reaction like that, something amazing must have just happened.’ He was right; something amazing did just happen. Sam and I could now officially start our life together.”

A few months later, Lauren accepted Sam’s marriage proposal.

Lauren graduated and now works in Richmond. Sam now works at the VCU Massey Cancer Center and is studying for a master’s degree in the VCU School of Business.

“Sam and I have been able to learn new things about each other every day and build a life together in the city that we both love,” Lauren said. “We really believe that VCU was an integral part of our being able to find a place that we can call home.”


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