Classmates to Soul Mates

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Freshman orientation is hardly the place where eager high school seniors, soon-to-be college freshmen might look for a future spouse, but for Phil and Melissa (née Maffei) Kuhner, their first experience at the college would be linked to a future they had never anticipated.

Phil and Melissa first met at Manhattan College’s Freshman Orientation in July 2001. While all the newcomers were busy with orientation activities throughout the day, that first night Melissa said “word spread quickly about a party occurring in one of the dorm rooms.”

Melissa and Phil had just met that day, and knowing that Phil would make an appearance at the party, Melissa was able to convince her friend Maria to attend so she could see Phil again that night.

Photo Courtesy of Phil and Melissa Kuhner.
Photo Courtesy of Phil and Melissa Kuhner.

“I walked down the hall, into the party, said hello to Phil and we were literally in the room for two seconds before the orientation leaders knocked on the door,” she said. “Phil went to the door, let the ‘party police’ in, walked out and away from getting in trouble and left Maria and I to fend for ourselves, which later resulted in eight hours of college community service.”

While for some, that first experience may have been a deal-breaker, Melissa forgave him for the incident, but said she “still reminds him of this on a daily basis.”

Phil and Melissa both ended up living on the fourth floor in Horan Hall their freshman year.

“We visited each other’s rooms frequently and started a great friendship,” Melissa said.

While their journey started as early as the first day of orientation, Phil and Melissa never officially dated during their time at MC.

“The people you meet at orientation, you have that special bond from meeting. You’re at college for the first time developing a friendship,” said Danielle (née Russo) Wright, a classmate, close friend and roommate of Melissa.

“You never know what’s going to happen and so much changes in a short amount of time,” Danielle said. “You could see there was something there very early on.  There was definitely something there more than just a friendship.”

College was a very busy time for both Phil and Melissa, and while they participated in the Honors Enrichment Program together, much of Phil’s time was committed to both baseball and engineering.

They did keep in touch after graduating in 2005, but Melissa Maffei, an English major in the School of Arts, and Phil Kuhner, a computer engineering major in the School of Engineering, were not reunited until fall of the following year.

Over a year after graduation, the two ended up at a playoff baseball game in the city with other Jasper alumni.

Photo Courtesy of Phil and Melissa Kuhner.
Photo Courtesy of Phil and Melissa Kuhner.

“Phil was there and we immediately picked up right where we left off,” Melissa said.

Phil played on the MC baseball team for four years, and Melissa remains an avid fan of the sport today. One thing they do disagree on though, is which team to root for, as Phil is a Mets fan and Melissa is a Yankees fan.

While they do have loyalty to different teams, they share a common love for the sport. At the end of the impromptu reunion, Phil walked Melissa back to her car and asked her if he could call her to go out sometime. “To which I said ‘sure’,” Melissa said.

“Looking back on it now, it’s funny how one of the first people I met at college wound up becoming my husband. Never in a million years did I ever think that would happen but it’s what makes our story unique,” Melissa said.

Phil proposed to Melissa on their four-year dating anniversary, on Nov. 20 in 2010 at the top of the Empire State Building in New York City. Melissa and Phil were married in September of 2012, and welcomed their first child, Nicholas, in September of the following year.

The wedding ceremony took place at Sacred Heart Church in Yonkers, NY, where Melissa’s parents were married 31 years prior. The reception was held across the Hudson River in Bergen County, NJ at the Estate at Florentine Gardens.

The wedding party was filled with Jasper alumni. Danielle was the matron of honor and Melissa’s younger sister, who graduated from the college in 2013, was the maid of honor. Another bridesmaid was Maria, who was with Phil and Melissa that first night of orientation.  The men in the wedding party also included former Jasper baseball players.

“Half of the wedding party was Manhattan people—myself and two more roommates were in the wedding party too,” Danielle said. “When we all get together it is really cool to see.  Everyone is married and has kids.”

Thinking back on her years in college, the advice Melissa has learned since she graduated from the school is to “make the most out of your college education and the contacts that you form in college. Really value those contacts, since those are definitely people that will help you in the long run.”

For Danielle, it is these very relationships that mean so much to her.

“Be sure to stay in touch with people and make great friendships.  These are the people you’ll be in touch with forever,” she said.

“You’ll definitely have those for the rest of your life, both personally and professionally,” Melissa added. “In college it’s easy to get caught up in the partying scene, but it’s important to remember those four years go by very fast.  The partying is fun, don’t get me wrong, I did it! But be sure to secure an internship, and make the most of your academic experience, that’s why you’re there.”