Sunday, August 1, 2021

An unexpected night: MSU alumni share their love story

June 9, 2021
<p>MSU alumni Adam Brandt and Jess Hernandez at Spartan Stadium. </p>

MSU alumni Adam Brandt and Jess Hernandez at Spartan Stadium.

For alumna Jess Hernandez, it was just a regular yoga class with her friend Island Ewert, and for alumnus Adam Brandt, it was the usual hangout at the Ewert’s with Brandon Ewert.

After graduating from MSU in 2016, Hernandez was placed in a role as a college advisor working on the MSU College Advising Corps, where she met Island. Brandt was roommates with Brandon for all four years in college, and after graduating in 2017, he continued to live on the east side of Michigan and would visit the Ewerts monthly.

An unforeseen couple

Island and her husband Brandon had plans of introducing Hernandez to Brandt for a couple months. One weekend everyone was in town, they went to a local East Lansing bar, Lou & Harry’s Bar & Grill. 

Initially, Hernandez didn’t think of the night as a search for a potential significant other since she was still attending graduate school at the time, and especially since she had plans to travel abroad after receiving her master’s from the University of Michigan in higher education.

She said she went into the night with a "we'll see where this goes" mindset.

Brandt had the opposite reaction. He said he can recall the rollercoaster of emotions he experienced that night after first hearing Hernandez's voice.

“First of all, I’m super scared, like hiding in the living room,” Brandt said. “I’m getting really nervous as I'm about to meet her because I know they have a little bit of expectations of how the night's gonna go down with her. … Instantly, I was like, 'She’s beautiful.' She has an amazing smile, she seems very bubbly and happy and just positive and just overall just gives me a very secure, comfortable feeling.”

After spending less than five minutes at the bar, Brandt took the first step by asking for Hernandez’s number. 

Further into the night, they discovered that they actually took three classes together during undergrad: Nutrition 150, Geography 204 and a linguistics final in the same room. Brandt had also worked at the cafeteria in South Case all four years of undergrad, the cafeteria that Hernandez commonly went to get meals as well.

“We probably crossed paths obviously many times and never once (saw) each other,” Brandt said.

As the night goes on, they begin to discover that the two have a lot in common: their immense love for Michigan State, passion for higher education and much more.

“It was awesome,” Brandt said. “I was just in awe with all the things that she was involved in, has done, will do, and I just couldn't stop staring at her.”

Hernandez’s carried on with the mentality she started the night with, hoping to keep things casual as they continued talking at the bar. She said she saw it as more of an opportunity for networking. 

After the night ended, Brandt knew that he had a window to reach out since he had Hernandez’s number. 

The two called on the phone every night leading up to their first date. For Brandt, it felt very natural every time that they had a phone conversation.

“I wanted to soak in information and know more about her, and every time it was just super easy,” Brandt said.

By their third date, the two had not officially decided that they were dating, but they planned for Hernandez to meet Brandt’s parents. At the restaurant, the waiter asked what brought them in that day, and Brandt’s mom said that they were “meeting the girlfriend.” Both looked at each other in shock but didn’t think to bring up how they weren’t dating quite yet.

On the fourth date the following weekend, Hernandez felt like she needed to address what Brandt’s mom said the weekend prior and asked Brandt what it meant when his mom called her his girlfriend. Brandt was extremely caught off guard by this gesture, but the two agreed to begin dating.

“I’m just sitting there, my whole world is just flipping upside down," Brandt said. "My heart was stopping, and I was like, ‘Yes, I would like for you to be my girlfriend very much, thank you.'"

After graduating, Hernandez traveled abroad to several locations including Mexico and Europe. While traveling, the two continued to call every night, despite the time zone difference, while Hernandez was also applying and interviewing at various jobs. A few days after she had an interview with Wayne State, they offered her the job and she started working after finishing traveling.

They decided to move into an apartment in Troy together on March 1, 2020.

Three weeks later, the whole world was under total lockdown due to COVID-19. Although it was a shock to everyone, both agree that they learned a lot from each other during quarantine, especially while prepping for daily meals. The two would try making different dishes together to learn what they enjoy or didn’t enjoy. Brandt said that he became more used to various foods that he normally wouldn’t have touched.

In September 2019, Brandt opened a separate savings account to specifically save for an engagement ring for Hernandez. After just a few months, he knew he would be ready to propose the following May or June.

The proposal

Throughout quarantine, the two enjoyed rotating who planned out a date night, or “Sunday Funday,” as the couple calls it. It was Brandt’s turn to plan out the night on May 31, 2020, but this week was especially different. 

Brandt took Hernandez to Booth Park, in Birmingham: the same location that the couple had their second date. They sat on a grassy hill, brought all of Hernandez’s favorite snacks and Brandt pitched his plan for the day: the two were going to have a painting competition to paint whatever they want, and see whose is better. 

Brandt painted himself proposing to Hernandez.

After they both finished painting, the two put back everything except their canvases onto the car and started walking on a private trail in the park. Hernandez openly held out her canvas, but Brandt placed his into a plastic bag to conceal the painting from her. As they began walking down the pathway, there was an opening with a serene creek and rocks running along with it.

“I couldn't even last five minutes, like this is the spot, this is where I'm gonna do it,” Brandt said.

Brandt began telling Hernandez how much she meant to him, but this wasn’t a rare occurrence, so Hernandez didn’t think anything of it at all.

The engagement ring was also in a bulky box in Brandt’s coat pocket, but Hernandez mentioned that he usually always has a lot of small items in his pockets, so nothing was too unusual there either.

The couple began to reveal their paintings to each other with Hernandez going first. After, Brandt told Hernandez to cover her face with her canvas because he didn’t want her peeking or accidentally seeing his painting. 

“At this point, I’m like shaking,” Brandt said. “I am so nervous about what I'm about to do. … I’m stalling. I'm stalling so bad.”

Finally, Brandt held up the painting with the ring box open behind it and told Hernandez to uncover her eyes. He put the painting aside and got down on one knee then proposed.

Hernandez said her reaction was a "rollercoaster," as she felt both excitement and like she was going to cry. She said to keep from crying in the moment, she laughed at Brandt and asked how he planned the proposal.

For Hernandez, it was extremely emotional knowing that Brandt put so much time and effort behind this to planning the proposal.

“Learning about all the conversations he had, I think that that gets me super excited about it because again … it was the one thing I didn’t know I would be really excited for when it happened,” Hernandez said.

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The couple got to planning the wedding right away. They initially looked to venues in Muskegon, but Hernandez had just one request: to have Sparty at their wedding. However, with much uncertainty due to COVID-19, the two have decided to have a small ceremony with their closest family and friends on July 31 in Hernandez’s hometown, Hart, Michigan. 

How they have stuck together through it all  

The couple shared how they have learned to love each other during all the moments, whether happy or difficult. Hernandez laughed while first mentioning how she loves Brandt's curly hair but later emphasizes his personality traits that she especially appreciates.

“I think definitely his silliness and being able to literally share anything,” Hernandez said. “Sometimes we think of those hard conversations, and it’s really hard to bring those up and have those conversations — this can be mental health, family, future plans.”

Hernandez also explained how Brandt is able to comfortably be around her family: a crucial factor for her.

“My family loves him, and I think that’s a really important thing for me, that he can get along with my family or be open, coming from a completely different culture,” Hernandez said.

For Brandt, he explains why he loves Hernandez so much.

“My life was, it was a bit dull — that's for sure — before I met her,” Brandt said. “I had my own good times, but I didn't really know what a good time was until I was with her. … My whole world is opening up because you are encouraging me to grow, and I have never experienced this kind of growth with anyone else.”

All in all, the two believe that communication has kept their relationship so successful.

“I think communication has been key,” Hernandez said. “I feel like we've grown so much in that and again, just thinking ... previous instances with friends or even just family members, I think that we can call each other out — not in a bad way — but just be like, ‘Hey it's okay that you’re mad, but we can let it go.”

The future for the fiancés

For now, the two don’t have plans for a honeymoon because they love spending their summers at home, in Michigan. 

Recently, the couple bought a house near the East Lansing area and will be moving there soon. Hernandez will still be working remotely while Brandt will be looking for a teaching or principal position at the public schools nearby. 

As of now, while keeping up with both of their full-time jobs, the couple also continues to do freelance work together as brand ambassadors and began serving as well.

“We have gotten to see each other in work and being team players, and I think that that again just shows how compatible we are because we can definitely be professional, and we know what we each mean to each other,” Hernandez said.

The couple looks back to how they were able to stay in touch the first weeks that they begin seeing each other.

“I feel like we did a really good job in getting to know each other even during that time because there’s a lot that he got to learn, but even more so when we lived together, and he said this himself, ‘I've just learned so much about you, and it is crazy how much you can learn,'” Hernandez said.

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