COVID-19 couldn’t stop two Stanford students from saying ‘I do’

A Stanford couple scaled back their wedding plans because of the pandemic, but proceeded with a smaller, socially distanced ceremony ‘to create a little bit of happiness during such uncertain times.’

Stanford doctoral students Negin Heravi and Jimmy Rojas’ romance had many storybook angles. But no one expected a chapter on social distancing during a pandemic.

Stanford doctoral students Negin Heravi and Jimmy Rojas get married at Memorial Church on March 30, 2020. (Image credit: Toki Migimatsu)

The couple met by chance when they were undergraduates at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During a junior-year formal, Heravi asked Rojas to take a photo of her with some friends. Their first date was at an ice cream parlor. They began dating and fell in love. Before long, they were applying to graduate schools, but chose to do so independently, neither telling the other their plans or school preferences. When their acceptance letters arrived, they shared their decisions at the same time: mechanical engineering at Stanford.

In 2016, they moved to California to begin school and received their master’s degrees together last year. After passing their mechanical engineering PhD qualifying exams, they became engaged and began planning a spring wedding for April 4, 2020, at Memorial Church. About 75 family members and friends from around the world made plans to join them.

But in early March, as COVID-19 was spreading across the globe, their plans changed, or at least everything but the most important plan. Because of restrictions on gatherings and travel, Heravi and Rojas postponed their traditional ceremony but decided to proceed with a much smaller wedding on March 30.

“We wanted to create a little bit of happiness during such uncertain times for us and – through pictures and lots of Zoom video calls – for our friends and families, too,” Heravi and Rojas explained in an email.

Five people gathered in the garden beside Memorial Church. The bride wore a white and pink organza dress with floral embroidery, while the groom wore a navy suit with a pink tie. Two of Heravi’s lab mates stood in as witnesses and photographers. Everyone but the bride and groom kept their distance.

“Well over six feet apart we celebrated in the midst of so much grief and loss, fear and disruption,” said Dean for Religious Life Tiffany Steinwert, who conducted the ceremony and surprised the couple with flowers. “They said ‘yes’ to life and love despite it all. It was beautiful.”

After the ceremony that afternoon, the newlyweds strolled through the Engineering Quad and then headed home to the Munger Graduate Residences.

“We walked back to our apartment with the flower bouquet in Negin’s hands,” they recalled. “Many people stared at us. It was awesome. The funniest event was running into Jimmy’s lab mate, who will be one of our groomsmen, while he was exercising.”

The newlyweds’ “wedding reception” consisted of them cooking dinner in their campus apartment for the first time as a married couple. They celebrated via FaceTime video with family members, including Heravi’s family, who immigrated to southern California from Iran in 2011, and Rojas’ family in his home country of Costa Rica. The next day Rojas’ advisor, Arun Majumdar, professor of mechanical engineering and photon science, gave a toast over Zoom with the entire laboratory celebrating with wine, juice and water.

Heravi and Rojas’ formal wedding is rescheduled for August and, with their honeymoon postponed, their research continues. Rojas studies clean hydrogen production technologies and Heravi works on multi-modal virtual reality, focusing on haptic texture rendering, with Allison Okamura, professor of mechanical engineering and computer science, and Jeannette Bohg, assistant professor of computer science.

As the students’ wedding plans unfolded and they adjusted to unforeseen circumstances, they identified some congruities between mechanical engineering and wedding-planning.

“Resilience and reliability are key in the design of engineering systems. Our wedding was no exception. The world gave us a pandemic, but we got married anyway and gave the world some happiness instead,” they said. “Sharing our news and pictures with friends and relatives from all over the world has put a smile on everyone’s faces, even as sadness and uncertainty revolve around the world these days.”