The University of Chicago is a place known for its academic rigor, Nobel Prizes, Gothic architecture, dollar milkshakes on Wednesdays—and, sometimes, its matchmaking abilities.
There are many traditions here on campus that deal with love. Legend has it that if you kiss someone on the bridge over Botany Pond, the two of you will someday get married. Then, if you and your beloved are looking for somewhere to get married, look no further than Rockefeller or Bond Chapels, where only people affiliated with the University are allowed to have their weddings (current students can even get a discount). But what happens when you propose to someone on top of Rockefeller?
That’s exactly what Jordan Call did with Michelle Rodriguez. Jordan, a third-year Law School student, and Michelle, a recent alum of the College from the Class of 2015, met in Hyde Park through the Church of the Latter-Day Saints and got to know each other better as Michelle became more involved in the church. Right now, Jordan is preparing for graduation this June and Michelle has been settling into her new job in Maryland. Because of their current long-distance status, they told me their own stories separately. Together, this is their story.
“I took it upon myself to try to meet the new people who came [to church],” Jordan said. “One day there was a curly blonde-haired gal who was visiting. I went up to talk to her, found out she was an undergrad at UChicago and found out a lot of really cool things about her.” He explained that she requested his help to learn more about the church—“I guess she thought I was cute or something”—and, in time, they learned more about each other.
They even went to an organ recital in Rockefeller Chapel together as their first unofficial date.
“I think I said, ‘this is the start of a beautiful friendship,’” Jordan said.
Turns out, they had a lot in common: they shared a passion for music and the Spanish language. One night, they went to see a play hosted by the Spanish department at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts. Michelle explained how their relationship grew from this: “Afterward, we were talking about the play and wanted to keep talking about it. Being a Law student, he never has to go to the main campus. I offered to show him around a little bit. It was pretty cold, so we pulled a bench [on the quad] over one of the vents in front of the admissions building. We sat there until like 2 in the morning, talking and getting to know each other. To this day it’s one of the very foundational events of our relationship.”
They soon realized that they both felt more than just friendship, but Michelle was about to study abroad in Barcelona for spring quarter. “By the time we started dating, we already knew each other really well. He was very aware of the fact that I was about to study abroad in a month. We decided to try things out and start a relationship because we knew something would come out of it,” Michelle said. “We were dating in person for like a month, then we took a road trip to Baltimore and he met my parents and then I flew to Spain and studied abroad for two and a half months.”
Skyping every day helped mitigate some of the distance, and they spent the following summer together in Utah. The two came to the happy realization that they wanted to get married; from there, Michelle started putting together her idea of a perfect proposal.
“One of my hobbies is mountain climbing. I told him I wanted to be proposed to on a mountain,” she said. “He said, ‘you know it could never be a surprise’ because we’d have to travel somewhere and he’d have to be like, ‘Let’s go up on the mountain!’”
“The ring was burning a hole in my pocket and it was going to be a long time before we were by a mountain,” Jordan said. “I had also heard that somewhere meaningful is the most important. A lot of people say the location to propose is the location of your first date.”
Jordan returned to Rockefeller Chapel to scope it out in late October, two or three days before he proposed. “I happened upon a card that talked about the carillonneurs (the people who play the carillon bells) and the tours they give. I just sat and waited until the next tour, took the whole tour, and was like 'This is perfect, this is so cool,'” he said. He wanted to propose as soon as he could, “Right there I realized that was what I needed to do.”
The chapel has been home to the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Carillon since 1932, which comprises 72 bells and 100 tons of bronze and is described as the single largest musical instrument ever built. It also happens to have a picturesque viewing deck 271 steps above the ground that looks out onto campus, the city’s South Side, and downtown Chicago. Jordan went up all 271 steps three times in three days as he prepared for the big day.
While Jordan rushed to make sure all details were in order, Michelle—who had started a job in a different city—was preparing for her weekend trip to Chicago to see Jordan. In the meantime, the carillonneur who helped him (a student at the College who has been learning how to play the instrument) practiced Jordan's original song called “Baltimore” for the proposal.
Jordan had started to write this song before their road trip to Maryland, but became stuck and couldn’t figure out how it should go. As a surprise, he finished it and sent the recording to Michelle in an email while she was abroad. She loved it, “It was all about the memories we had, the time I got us lost walking home from church, the time I walked him to the pier on the lake. The whole song ‘Baltimore’ is all these really precious memories,” Michelle said.
Joan Wang, a fourth-year economics and math major who has been playing the carillon for two years, was the lucky carillonneur that day. “Jordan told me about this during the noon recital that very day—he was planning on proposing during the afternoon recital. I thought the idea was really beautiful and super romantic—and so did the other people on the noon tour; they were all giving him advice,” she said. “We had to change a few things around so that the piece was a bit more idiomatic for the instrument—we moved some notes higher so we weren't using the heavier sounding lower bells, and generally tried to achieve a lighter, more ethereal sound.”
As soon as Michelle’s flight landed, she headed straight to Rockefeller. Jordan had told her that he wanted to do the carillon tour together but that they had a small window of time before the tour would leave. Jordan had alerted the rest of the group tour of his plans, and so, when she slipped into the chapel lobby right before the tour began, they all took note.
A couple hundred steps later, Jordan and Michelle waited for the rest of the group to go up to the viewing deck as they waited near where the carillon was played. When most of the group came back, Jordan knew that they would have privacy and so they finished the rest of the climb to the top of the tower.
“I remember it was beautiful. You can see all of campus, the city. I turned to him and I hugged him because the beauty was just so overwhelming,” Michelle said. “His heart was beating so fast, I made fun of him and told him he needed to do more exercise.”
“The bells had stopped playing and we stood up there for a minute. We were looking out quietly and I started telling him how much I miss UChicago and how beautiful campus is, how much of an important place it has been in my life and in my journey. As I was telling him these things, the bells started playing again. Within the first few notes I knew that melody so well. I laughed and said it sounds so funny, it sounds like ‘Baltimore.’”
Jordan was excited that she recognized the tune, “But then she seemed to forget about it. I was like, listen a little more carefully—it is ‘Baltimore.’”
“I was like ‘That’s weird, how did they get that?’ It did not cross my mind that maybe I was going to be proposed to, I was just really confused,” Michelle said.
But that confusion didn’t last for long. “She realized what was happening and freaked out,” Jordan said. “I said my little thing, pulled out the ring, and put it on her finger. She squeezed me so hard.”
“You think your proposal is going to be this really exciting thing but it’s [actually] terrifying,” Michelle added. “I knew my decision way before I was going to be on the top of Rockefeller but I was shaking. The song kept playing while he talked and then he pulled out a ring and got down on one knee.”
The couple spent the rest of the day visiting some of their favorite spots on campus—including the bench outside Rosenwald and the bridge over Botany Pond, where they did indeed kiss.
The wedding is set for July, in Baltimore itself. While they don’t plan to stay in Chicago permanently, Michelle and Jordan both anticipate doing the tour again sometime for the memories.
“Every time I pass Rockefeller since, I put my hand over my heart and think about that day,” Jordan said.
“I feel like UChicago was the facilitating third wheel in our relationship,” Michelle said.
Posted on: Monday, May 9, 2016 - 2:00pm