During the past two-plus decades as a college professor, Texas A&M University chemist Simon North has gotten his fair share of requests from his students, ranging from help understanding a particular concept and a curve on the most recent test, to advice on the best graduate schools and a subsequent letter of recommendation.
Last spring he fielded his most unique request to date when two former students in his freshman chemistry course, Texas A&M senior chemistry majors Julia Santell ’19 and Josiah Day ’19, asked him to officiate at their upcoming wedding, set for August 17 at the picturesque Orchard at Caney Creek in Wharton, Texas.
“One of the benefits of an academic life is getting to know interesting young people and to watch them develop and grow and set out to make the world a better place,” said North, head of the Texas A&M Department of Chemistry since 2016. “The Class of 2019 is probably the most memorable class in my 22 years at Texas A&M.”
The event was a family affair featuring multiple Texas A&M chemistry majors and several of Josiah’s Corps of Cadets buddies among the wedding party, along with additional faculty members as honored guests. For his part beyond the traditional something new, old, borrowed and blue, North contributed his Texas-certified officiant status properly earned online as well as a powerful human touch. He hand-wrote his wedding-day remarks in a leather notebook gifted to him by the mother of another of his former students, 2004 Texas A&M chemistry graduate Dr. Matthew Rowan, who passed away in August 2016 along with his wife, Sunday Stewart Rowan, in a tragic hot air balloon accident near Lockhart, Texas. Fittingly, North gifted the notebook to the Days as a compelling keepsake and testament to enduring relationships — that of husbands and wives as well as that of students and teacher.
“A marriage ceremony is a wonderful, joyous event — a chance to celebrate publicly a lifetime commitment of two fantastic people,” North said. “I have known Julia and Josiah since they were freshmen in my chemistry class in the fall of 2015. It is interesting that the first email I received from Julia asked about hypergolic propellants. For the non-chemists, these consist of two components which spontaneously ignite when they come into contact with each other. As a couple, Julia and Josiah are both inquisitive, interested and present. They are both kind, polite and respectful. They have both surrounded themselves with kind, supportive and loving friends. And they have excellent chemistry.”
Julia and Josiah, who both graduated in May, were gracious enough to take time out following their recent move from Texas to Ohio to answer the following questions that tell their story in their own words.
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When and how did the two of you meet?
JULIA: We have technically known of each other since freshman year General Chemistry with Dr. North in fall 2015. You can actually see freshman Josiah in that class in a 2016 episode of the College of Science’s Labors of Lab video series on YouTube. It’s at roughly the 1:23 mark — he’s in the front row, and I’m about two rows back, but I don’t think you ever see me. We first started communicating around spring break of 2017, when I wanted to go hiking at Colorado Springs in West Texas. Josiah and another chemistry major, Tucker Folsom ’19, were available and went with me to hike. It was there that we got to talk, and I found he was sweet, smart and adventurous.
JOSIAH: To add, Julia left an anonymous note in my Organic Lab equipment drawer after that hiking trip, stating her interest in me. Naturally, I was curious as to who this person might be, so I investigated to see if I could figure out who wrote it. During our Organic 2 lecture, our mutual friend took the note from me, looked around the room and placed the note perfectly in the notebook where it was torn out of. It was Julia’s, and she was sitting right behind me. A very awkward hour and a half later (the discovery was made right at the beginning of lecture), I finally got to ask her out to coffee, and the rest is history.
JULIA (as an aside): The anticipation of him finding out slowly and also having something tangible to keep forever made me so glad I didn’t just text him!
How/when did you know he/she was the one? Was it instant chemistry and a whirlwind romance, a well-thought-out and executed plan, or did he/she just grow on you by osmosis?
JULIA: I knew he was the one after I broke up with him! At first, it was definitely a whirlwind — we grew on each other so quickly and had a lot of fun together. He was always understanding of my schedule and I of his (being in the Corps is a whole separate commitment!) After a few months, he started talking about our engagement, marriage, what life would be like, etc. I was pretty nervous. I had never thought that I would be engaged or married so soon after graduation. After a few attempts at asking him to slow down, I decided to break it off because I was afraid to commit so quickly! We were in different states at the time (this was during winter break 2017), and after a few hours of giving me some space, he texted me, saying he wasn’t ready to stop fighting for me. It seems like such a little thing, but that was probably the moment I realized he’s the one. We got back together and took it slowly, until I was the one talking about marriage! Ever since then, we’ve become very much a part of each other.
JOSIAH: I fell for Julia very early on. Not only was she way smarter than I, but something in my heart just knew she was something so important to me I had to hold onto. When she broke up with me, I knew I had to marry her. All my life, I had big plans for what I wanted my future to look like, but I knew none of it really mattered unless I could share it all with her. I had never wanted to fight for something more in my entire life, and so — thank God — I had the courage to do it.
At what point did Dr. North enter the picture, and whose idea was it to ask him to officiate? Walk me through that conversation.
JULIA: When Josiah and I were planning our wedding, we knew we wanted to have all our Texas A&M Chemistry friends there to celebrate with us. When we saw how many of our classmates were invited, it only seemed right to have a “full circle” moment for Dr. North to officiate. We went to one of his classes (Chemical Kinetics, Spring 2019) and waited for him to finish answering questions after class. He came up to greet us, and we explained how much he was a part of our Texas A&M experience and how amazing it would be if he could be the one to marry us. He looked a little shocked for a moment, saw we weren’t kidding and said he would love to! Hugs were exchanged, and thus began the officiating journey. I’m sure he was a bit stressed about it all because he hadn’t officiated before, and he emailed me to make sure everything was just how we wanted it. But he did an amazing job, and all his questions reassured us he cared and wanted the best experience for us.
JOSIAH: Dr. North has been an inspiration to me and to many of my fellow classmates from day one. He took the time to memorize our names, and throughout the four years we were with Texas A&M Chemistry, he always made sure we were making the best of our time with the department. I had the privilege of studying in his research group beyond taking two of his classes, and his passion for science and education really sparked a love of chemistry and appreciation for the complexity of the world we live in. If it hadn’t been for that inspiration, I probably wouldn’t have finished my degree in chemistry and made it long enough to meet Julia. When we were looking at someone to officiate our wedding, I wanted the person who has had the most impact on us during our time at Texas A&M, and we couldn’t think of someone better than Dr. North.
I understand the wedding party and guests featured multiple Texas A&M connections, from classmates to professors. I’d love for you to elaborate to the degree you feel appropriate.
JULIA: There were a lot of Class of 2019 chemistry majors there. An official count is 19 (A-WHOOP) chemistry majors, along with 10 of Josiah’s Corps buddies, the Drs. Powers and Dr. North and his wife. We invited a few other faculty who weren’t able to make it for personal reasons, but we wanted to invite faculty who most — if not all — of the chemistry majors present would have met or taken a class from. Our guest list had to be relatively small because of budgetary reasons, and we had to fit family in as well. If we could have invited the whole department, we would have! All the faculty has been so kind and genuinely invested in our education and growth as chemists, and our wedding would have been the perfect time to say, “We love you! Thank you for everything you do and how exciting you’ve made these past four years for us.” Both Josiah’s and my college experience leaned so heavily into the department that some of our closest friends (including my maid of honor, Emily Howard ’19) were chemistry majors. So, we didn’t invite chemistry majors just to invite chemistry majors. We invited our best friends who have been through the highs and lows of the last four years of our lives with us. They’re some of the brightest, kindest, most fun people around. There’s even a hashtag on Instagram, #ChemMajorBestMajor.
JOSIAH: Ditto to the above. I’ve never had such great friends as the ones I’ve met through not only the challenges of the Corps, but the 2 a.m. study sessions with my classmates and the many labs that we shared together.
What did your time at Texas A&M — and specifically as chemistry majors — teach you?
JULIA: My time at A&M and as a chemistry major taught me so many valuable lessons, both in the classroom and in life. Texas A&M gave me so many opportunities to explore what really made me happy, even as it helped me learn that it’s okay to walk away from things that don’t interest or excite you. The Department of Chemistry has such a broad range of research foci, so there’s something for anyone in the department, from analytical to educational, to even joint work with other departments like Physics and Astronomy at the Cyclotron Institute. I learned to really speak up for what I was and wasn’t interested in, because I knew there was always something else to try and that there were faculty not far away to help me try it.
JOSIAH: Besides the chemistry, I learned how to make sacrifices, how to manage time and how to appreciate the tough times. I certainly wasn’t the smartest in my class, and I knew my future would likely have significantly less chemistry than my degree required (the likelihood of needing chemistry to be in the Air Force was really low). Between academics, the Corps and extracurricular activities, it was hard to find any free time. It was times like finals, evaluations, performances or whatever else could be thrown at me that I learned to really lean on the friends I had around me and appreciate the fact that those tough times only brought us closer together.
What are some of your favorite memories?
JULIA: It’s hard to pick favorites — they’re like picking a favorite child. I wish I could relive them all. But a few would be these:
- Studying late at night in the Library Annex with everyone for the PChem final, drawing on the big whiteboards and taking quite a few snack breaks. It even started snowing once, and everyone took a break for a snowball fight!
- Walking through the Century Tree with Josiah after he proposed, only to be greeted on the other side with a saber arch of Josiah’s closest buddies and a group of our closest chemistry major friends all dressed up, just for us!
- Helping Dr. Pennington with the Chemistry Road Show in Galveston and getting to do hands-on demos with the kids, like making liquid nitrogen ice cream.
- Meeting some amazing people during my Chemistry REU and working on an innovative and fulfilling project in Dr. Sczepanski’s lab.
JOSIAH: Corps Brass Culmination both freshman and sophomore year. Final review Senior Year. Weapons Run with the Ross Volunteer Company. Pre-Quantitative Analysis final snowball fight. Having a (moderately) successful end-of-the-year project in inorganic lab, late-night study sessions before finals and hanging out with friends between the end of finals and going home for the break.
Where are you now, and what are each of you doing as far as careers/life after Aggieland?
JULIA: I am currently substitute teaching until I can take my GRE and apply to the University of Dayton’s master’s program for chemistry.
JOSIAH: I commissioned into the Air Force as an Acquisitions Officer to be stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
What’s your biggest Texas A&M takeaway — chemistry-related and/or otherwise?
JULIA: Never stop seeking knowledge, and question everything. It’s so easy to take something for face value because it’s easier that way, especially when it comes to scientific information — but there’s never been something, especially chemistry-related, that I regretted learning.
JOSIAH: Family is a big part of who we are. It’s not just who you’re born to, or even the school you attend. It’s the people you surround yourself with and lean on when times get tough. Our Aggie family is large, and I know that wherever Julia and I find ourselves in life, they’ll always be there for us, and us for them.
I understand Dr. North took time during his wedding-day sermon to share a few words about the two of you. What would you like to share about him?
JULIA & JOSIAH: Dr. North was always invested in us as students, but what sets him apart is that he’s invested in us as people as well. Our whole class has such a fondness for him, because he was approachable, honest, and you knew he was always rooting for you. He shakes your hand, gives you a pat on the back and remembers your name. Even when he’s speed-walking across the Chemistry Annex, he’ll say hello and ask how you are. He is very much a friend to us. He gave us so much of himself in his teaching, mentoring and all the other efforts we didn’t see. He really made the first experience we had as chemistry majors such a positive one with his excitement about chemistry and passion for learning. I think a lot of the Class of 2019 carries that same passion with us — to graduate school, to the classroom, to industry and wherever else we may go — because of him.
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Learn more about undergraduate studies in chemistry at Texas A&M University.