Miriam Gillespie was called to the stage Dec. 10 in Watkins Auditorium at the University of Tennessee at Martin to receive an award. Instead, she received a surprise marriage proposal from John Ciesliga, a member of the 2011 class who later that morning received his master of business administration degree during the university’s December commencement exercises.
The pre-commencement ceremony that honored the university’s MBA students became a celebration for two people, living in Memphis, who met while pursuing their online graduate degrees.
“We met during an online class – corporate finance,” John said, who earned his undergraduate degree from Davenport University’s Detroit College of Business in Michigan. “She worked at Morgan Keegan. I worked at AutoZone, both on Front Street, downtown Memphis, and I’d seen on her Facebook profile that she worked just down the street from me, and I asked her if she wanted to study one night for corporate finance.”
A Mud Island restaurant – not a classroom – provided the setting for their first face-to-face meeting, and in John’s words, “the rest is history.”
Miriam earned her UT Martin undergraduate degree in 2007, and almost a year ago in the same setting, she received her MBA. She was in the first student cohort to graduate from the university with an MBA degree offered online and designed primarily for banking and financial services professionals.
Knowing that Miriam would attend the special ceremony for MBA students before commencement exercises, John saw this as the perfect opportunity to ask Miriam to marry him. But he needed some assistance, and College of Business and Global Affairs faculty members were pleased to help. After all graduating students were recognized, Dr. Kevin Hammond, also the MBA program coordinator, called John back to the stage to present an “award” to Miriam for her persistence in earning her MBA degree.
John showed the framed “award” to the crowd, which read, “Will you marry me?” Then, he turned, showed his framed proposal to Miriam, dropped to one knee and proposed. Miriam accepted, and an unsuspecting audience that included members of both families, applauded its approval.
“The only one (family member) that knew was the father (Miriam’s dad), because I had to ask his permission,” John said.
John Ciesliga and Miriam Gillespie’s future together began with an online business course, and neither discounted the bonding power of good academic material.
“Corporate finance is a great topic to fall in love over,” John said.
“And cohort one and cohort two’s kids are definitely going to UT Martin,” Miriam added with a grin.