David Kelley B.S.E. ’07 and Emily Schmidt B.S.E. ’07, M.E.M. ’12 were classmates in the Pratt School of Engineering, but knew each other only in passing. Back on campus for Homecoming 2007, they kept bumping into each other and ended up dancing the night away at the President’s Dance. Thus began a long-distance relationship that flourished.
Fast forward to graduation weekend 2012. In honor of Schmidt’s newly issued graduate degree, Kelley told her he wanted to give her a congratulatory present on top of Duke Chapel, a site that would evoke memories of a similar gift exchange at the top of Rockefeller Center early in their relationship.
Kelley had a large aerial photograph of Duke Chapel to give to Schmidt. But he also had a second, secret present in his jacket pocket. Chapel housekeeper Oscar Dantzler met the couple at the bottom of the chapel’s narrow spiral staircase. As they ascended, Kelley gamely lugged the aerial photo up the 239 steps, keeping an eye on the time.
At the top, they set up Schmidt’s camera for a timed photo. With his nerves getting the best of him, Kelley fumbled two attempts to take a picture. Schmidt took over. As she started the timer and returned to her spot, Kelley kneeled down and started waxing romantic about his love for her.
“When I gave her a chance to speak she didn’t say anything, and I realized I hadn’t put my speech in the form of a question.”
Kelly popped the question formally, and Schmidt said yes. Back down on the chapel lawn, they were joined by family members and a handful of other conspirators in the Duke community who had been in on the plan, including senior associate dean of Trinity College Gerald Wilson B.Div. ’61, A.M. ’68, who offered to marry them on the spot “to save some time and money.”
The couple are now back in D.C., “enjoying our engagement and trying out this new fun word ‘fiancé,’ ” says Kelley. “Many thanks to everyone at Duke who made the proposal dream come true. I couldn’t have done it without them.”