The Life-Changing Trip to the Principal’s Office

Mason McDowell went to a Wichita, Kan., job fair in March 2020 expecting his hands to get sweaty and his throat to go dry for the usual reasons. The competition was considerable, and he hoped to walk out with an offer to put his elementary school teaching credentials to use.

“I remember thinking, OK, I’m going to go in and not talk to anybody but principals,” Mr. McDowell said. Then Alexandra Stamps walked in. “I tried to focus on my notes, but I couldn’t. Especially after we caught eyes. She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen.”

Mr. McDowell and Ms. Stamps, both 23 and native Kansans, were education majors months from earning their bachelor’s degrees at the time. He was attending Southwestern College in Winfield, Kan.; she was at Friends University in Wichita. His plan to not talk to anyone besides principals went out the window when he saw a chance to approach Ms. Stamps during a lunch break. But instead of kicking off the kind of flirtation that might have led to the securing of her phone number, all he managed to say was that he appreciated the scent of barbecue in the air. “I was so nervous I didn’t even get her name,” he said.

The botched encounter also failed to turn up the fact that she was then student teaching at Earhart Environmental Magnet Elementary School in Wichita. This was the same school where, during the job fair, he scored an interview with the principal, Matthew Malget, two weeks later.

Days before the pandemic forced Earhart to close, Mr. McDowell ran into Ms. Stamps on his way to Mr. Malget’s office for the appointment. “He said hi and his voice cracked,” she said. His nerves were in overdrive. “I was nervous about the interview, and then I saw her and that made it worse,” he said. An hour later, though, he left campus triumphant: Before Mr. Malget offered him a job teaching third graders, Ms. Stamp had given him her number.

Two months went by before they would see each other again. “Everything was shut down, and it took him a while to express interest in dating me through text and over the phone,” she said. Finally, on May 5, 2020, they met for a walk near her home in Wichita. “We ended up walking 14 miles because we didn’t want to stop talking,” she said. Among the topics they covered: Mr. McDowell’s guilt about landing the job at Earhart, which Ms. Stamps wanted, too, but didn’t get. (“I felt bad,” he said. “I told him, ‘Don’t be silly,’” she said). On May 7, Mr. McDowell asked her to be his girlfriend. On May 8, she accepted an offer to teach fifth grade at the McLean Science and Technology Magnet Elementary School in Wichita. The following spring, when both were back in the classroom, Mr. McDowell proposed at a park near her house. “He was on one knee, and he was crying,” she said. Her yes was instant.

Four days after their April 17 engagement, Ms. Stamps made a proposal of her own: she asked her 19 students to be her junior bridesmaids and groomsmen. Mr. McDowell popped the same question to his own class of 18. “They were beyond excited,” Ms. Stamps said. “Just so happy.”

Their July 1 wedding for 170, at Exploration Place, a local children’s museum, was an extravaganza for the under-12 crowd as well as the adults. The company that designed Ms. Stamps’s wedding dress, Morilee, donated a bridesmaids dress to every girl. Bella Veil Bridal, in Newton, Kan., rented black pants, a white shirt and sage green suspenders and bow ties to every boy for a discounted $10. (Ms. Stamps’s parents picked up the tab).

The ceremony, officiated by David Mann, a pastor at Central Christian Church in Wichita, left the couple feeling hopeful they had accomplished more than getting married on their wedding day.

“The whole reason we wanted the kids involved was because we wanted to give them validation that they really do mean something to us,” Ms. Stamps said. “As adults, we can process a pandemic. But it’s not that easy when you’re in third or fifth grade. We wanted them to have something to look forward to, something to feel good about.”

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