On August 5, 2017 Laura Young and Nick Ruxton were married at Westhampton United Methodist Church, the culmination of an eight-year courtship that began in high school, weathered four years of separation as the pair attended different colleges, and included a very special surprise when they reunited.
On May 10, 2014, Ruxton received a Sullivan Award at his graduation ceremony at Shenandoah University. Just a few weeks later, Young did the exact same thing, at Randolph-Macon College.
“I had to send him a message to let him know because he was abroad and we could not talk on the phone,” Young says. “I said to him ‘I know you have always wanted to name our first dog Sully, and now we really will have to, because we are both Sullivan award winners.’”
Living apart, living fully
Young and Ruxton began dating the summer before their senior year of high school, while serving on a church youth council that planned retreats and other youth group activities.
“We began talking as friends and it went from there,” Ruxton says. “We have never broken that text chain since we began talking.”
There was bound to be some difficulty, as the couple planned on going to different colleges while continuing to date, so they made a pact to stay together while still getting the most of their respective experiences.
“One commitment we made to each other was that we would not hole ourselves up in our respective dorm rooms and go visit each other every single weekend,” Young says. “We both decided we would get involved in school and soak up our college experience, while still making time to see each other when we could.”
That commitment meant that Young and Ruxton would often go stretches of 4 to 6 weeks without seeing each other in person, but they agree it provided the best experience possible.
“For both of us to win the Sullivan Award really said to me that we kept our commitment to each other and to ourselves to be active in our school and community, and that is something I am really proud of,” says Young.
An honor earned
Ruxton kept his promise to Laura from his first day at Shenandoah, located in Winchester, Virginia. He helped with meal time at the local Salvation Army, delivered food to homeless shelters during cold months, and, along with his friend Emily Howdyshell, led a mission trip to the Bahamas to work for Bahamas Methodist Habitat, which does home repair and disaster relief work.
Young, meanwhile, dove into campus life, finding her place as a leader among Randolph-Macon students. She served in student government as president of the class of 2014 all four years of her college career. She also served as president of the college’s chapter of Omicron Delta Kappa, the National Leadership Honor Society, which emphasizes service to others as one of its five pillars. Through her sorority (for which she also served a term as president), she participated regularly in service projects.
A match worth waiting for
Their engagement, carefully orchestrated by Ruxton, took Young by surprise with the help of a little innocent trickery. Ruxton, who works as a videographer for the United Methodist Church, brought her along to an ecumenical center where he claimed to have work to do. The plan made sense, as they were going out to dinner with Young’s parents immediately afterward.
Little did Young know her parents weren’t the only ones planning to attend the dinner. Employing a fake text message, Ruxton claimed a co-worker inside had warned him to wait before coming in to avoid interrupting a prayer. How would they kill the time? There happened to be a beautiful overlook, offering a vista of the city of Richmond below, right nearby.
The moment they reached the overlook, Young knew she’d been duped, but couldn’t have been happier. Ruxton’s brother Stephen and sister-in-law Karley were hiding around a corner to capture the proposal. Afterwards, the Young and Ruxton families went out for a celebratory dinner.
Just over three years after that fateful May when Young and Ruxton received their Awards, they made it official. Their passion for service even shone through at the wedding reception where, in lieu of favors, donations were made to charities of importance to the specific guests at each table.
An attitude of gratitude
Neither Ruxton nor Young have forgotten the feeling of being recognized for their dedication, despite all the other exciting life changes since their Sullivan Awards.
At Shenandoah, the recipient of the Award isn’t even revealed until the ceremony, at the very moment it’s bestowed, so Ruxton was truly in for a surprise.
“I was in shock when my name was read at graduation,” he says. “I knew this award was given out at graduation and those who had won it before me were very influential members of the Shenandoah University community. I never thought my name would be listed with theirs.”
For Young, it was a validation of the commitment she and Ruxton had made in high school, to stay committed while not letting a long-distance relationship diminish what college could be.
“There are so many students at Randolph-Macon who are involved and dedicated, and to be recognized among them was very humbling,” she says. “I have always seen college as being about so much more than the grades on your transcript, so to be recognized for being a well-rounded student with a heart for service was really special to me.”
As individuals, Young and Ruxton have bright futures ahead of them. As a pair, the Sullivan spirit will shine even brighter within them, perhaps just as it did for Algernon Sydney and Mary Mildred Sullivan when they married more than 150 years ago.