After the Aisle: Distance and Doctorates
Every now and then, you hear of love-at-first-sight encounters. But for Hazel Davis Emerson ’17 and Andrew Emerson ’17, who were clearly smitten with one another when they first met, it was more about perseverance and commitment.
Their story began their first year on campus when the two participated in the Engaged Living program where students with similar interests are housed near each other. They met at a My Tie event, a social involving, well, neckwear, and easily hit it off. “It’s one of the first pictures we have together,” Hazel says.
A fierce friendship ensued, punctuated with long walks around Furman Lake where the two shared hopes and dreams in their chosen fields – Hazel in chemistry, Andrew in mathematics and computer science. From there, they learned something deeper was stirring, and dated all four years at Furman.
Hazel, of Columbia, South Carolina, and Andrew, of Simpsonville, South Carolina, were bent on pursuing Ph.D.s after graduating and understood the challenges and pressures they’d face in a long-distance relationship. But they were up for it.
“I knew it was going to work,” Andrew says. “We had built up the skills to handle it, and that really helped us in the long run.” Hazel agrees, “We figured out how to communicate and support each other emotionally.”
Hazel enrolled at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst to study polymer science and engineering and Andrew enrolled at North Carolina State University to pursue his interest in artificial intelligence.
The 700 miles apart not only deepened their commitment to one another, it had the added effect of keeping them on track toward their dissertations.
In the five years of their long-distance relationship, they slogged through deadlines and research experiments gone awry, all while attempting to steal away on the rare weekend to visit. With COVID-19 raging and airlines operating at low capacity, they weren’t able to see each other for as long as six months at one point.
At her wit’s end, Hazel said, “‘I’ve got to get out of here,’ and so I got in the car and drove about 13 hours to Raleigh.”
Both closing in on their Ph.D.s, Andrew had a plan. Conspiring with close friends from Furman, Andrew worked out the logistics of a meet-up at Folly Beach, South Carolina, one of the couple’s favorite spots. But it almost didn’t happen as the ring Andrew ordered was held up in delivery. Once it was a go, Andrew wasted no time that first day on the beach.
Ring in hand, nerves frayed, and knee planted in sand, Andrew asked Hazel to be his wife.
About one year later, in October 2022, they were married at Greenville’s Gassaway Mansion. The service, they say, was more like a Furman reunion with the wedding party, plus bride and groom, consisting of seven alumni. Officiating the ceremony was Rev. Edward McCutcheon, campus minister of Wesley Fellowship, who presented the two as “Dr. and Dr. Emerson.”
Having endured a relationship from afar, the Emerson family of two is happy to be in the same town, “readjusting to each other,” says Hazel, now a scientist at Arkema in Cary, North Carolina. Meanwhile, Andrew is applying his AI engineering chops in the educational sphere at ETS, working remotely in Raleigh.