Valentine’s Day Special: alumni sweethearts

In light of Valentine's Day, six alumni couples reflect on their relationship and their time at ASL.

February 15, 2021

Keith Robinson (’88) and Natasha Robinson (’93)

Helen Roth

Keith Robinson (’88) and Natasha Robinson (’93)

Keith Robinson (’88) and Natasha Robinson’s (’93) relationship sparked through their shared values and love for ASL. With a five year age difference at school, they crossed paths but did not have many interactions. However, in the summer of 2003 on his way to Paris, Keith stopped in London for a friend’s birthday party and Natasha, living in London at the time, was there as well – the rest is history. They are now married and have two boys: Alexander Robinson (’28) and Christopher Robinson (’31), both of whom attend ASL.

What is the story of you meeting?

Natasha: He went to business school in Paris at INSEAD. He was living in New York and he stopped through London for a night on his way to move to Paris. We went to a common ASL friend’s 30th birthday party. The younger sibling was a very good friend of mine, and the older sibling who turned 30 was a friend of his.

Did you know each other?

N: You know what ASL is like. We knew each other because a lot of my friend’s older siblings were his friends, but we didn’t hang out or anything in school because I was much younger. 

Natasha Robinson (’93) and Keith Robinson (’88) live in London with their two kids who attend ASL. They wanted to send their kids to ASL because they said it was one of the most important experiences in their lives. (Photo courtesy of Natasha and Keith Robinson)

What was your first impression of each other?

Keith: I thought you were super fun and really cool.

N: He was a dork. I thought he was a nerd.

What did the two of you have in common that was evident from the beginning? 

N: We really wanted our kids to go to ASL, that is why we moved back when our son was entering K2.

K: Also, we both had a lot of friends from our respective times at ASL and in London. 

N: We still do. Both of our best friends in the world are all still from ASL.

So how did you spend your first date together?

N: It was at the restaurant Osteria Basilico.

K: She was 23 and I was 28. 

How long is it before you decided to get married?

N: We dated for two years and then we got married a year later.

Where was your wedding and what was it like? 

N: We got married at the Lanesborough and we had our wedding reception in Holland Park so we were in London for a while. Then we moved to San Francisco and then came back to London.

N: To be honest, I didn’t think I would get married pretty young. 

Why did you want your kids to go to ASL?

N: ASL was the most important experience both of us ever had and we made friends who are still our best friends in the world. We just really wanted our kids to have that.

How did ASL play a role in your relationship?

There’s something magical about ASL. It just stays with you forever. ”

— Natasha Robinson ('93)

N: We had a lot of shared experiences, maybe not at the same time, but we understood each other. That is what we still find with a lot of our friends. We have a lot of ASL friends whose husbands or wives don’t understand why they’re so deeply connected to their high school friends and we both get it. We understand the power of those relationships. There’s something magical about ASL. It just stays with you forever. 

K: I lived in a lot of different places and I went to this school in France for a particular reason. I wasn’t necessarily going to live in London afterwards and when we started dating, that’s what brought me back full time after school. We were clearly different with a five year difference that’s relatively meaningful. But, over time, I got very close with her ASL friends and she is very close to mine. There is this kind of common language, and it’s this thing that binds people together from those shared experiences; it creates this kind of really interesting fabric. 

Sajah Ali contributed to reporting.

Wayne Brooks-Austin (’70) and Deborah Nelson-Austin (’71)

Helen Roth

Wayne Brooks-Austin (’70) and Deborah Nelson-Austin (’71)

Wayne Brooks-Austin (’70) and Deborah Nelson-Austin’s (’71) relationship is founded by their shared experiences at ASL and their common faith in God. They met when he was in Grade 12 and she was in Grade 11 on a school trip. They soon developed a strong friendship, leading to their marriage during their freshman and sophomore years of college. They said their London years had huge impacts on their lives.

What is the story of you meeting?

Wayne: Well, I moved to London in the summer of 1969. Deborah was already there. She had been there for her sophomore year already. I guess before I got there during the summer, word got out that there were some new guys in town. I have an identical twin brother so it was kind of unique. People were curious to meet us. School started and we didn’t have classes together being different grade levels. The Working Men’s College in Camden Town was our campus and we had a big room that they called the Commons Room where we would hang out during break times and study hall times. That’s basically where we got to know each other. 

Deborah: And then early in the year, we took a weekend bike hike with one of our school teachers. I had done this the year before with two of my best friends and Ms. Dornbus who was an algebra teacher. They took three girls, me and two girlfriends, Wayne and his twin, and then Larry Quimby went with us on a bike hike. So we weren’t dating yet, but we got pretty interested in each other that weekend. 

When did you start dating?

W: You know, we went on that bike hike. And then when we came back, we knew we were interested in each other. And we had a pub that all the kids hung out at, so we agreed to meet there one night. It wasn’t an official date, but we knew we were both going to show up there. It was kind of funny because I walked there with my friends, Larry and my brother and others, and we got there and we were waiting outside, and this limousine pulled up to the curb. Then the chauffeur gets out, opens the door and Deborah gets out of the back of the limousine and she’s got on her rabbit fur coat and black crepe pantsuit. I remember it well.

D: He could tell you what is in my closet now.

W: I was pretty impressed. Later on, we walked over to another friend’s flat. She was having a party there and so we went there and kind of hung out together. The first date that I actually took her out on was probably a couple of weeks later. I don’t remember the exact timing of it. It was Simon and Garfunkel in concert at the Royal Albert Hall. It was a memorable occasion for sure. 

Photo Slider


Juxtapose by Maddy Whitman

Left: Wayne Brooks-Austin (’70) and Deborah Nelson-Austin’s (’71) live in Montgomery, Texas. They adopted twins in 1982 and ensured that their kids had an international life similar to their time at ASL.

Right: Wayne Brooks-Austin (’70) and Deborah Nelson-Austin’s (’71) have fond memories of their high school experience. They loved exploring London together and tried to enjoy everything the city has to offer.

What was your first impression of each other?

W: I thought she was very beautiful and exotic when I first saw her. I was probably scared of her.

D: I thought he was very cute, good-looking and got my interests. I thought he was aloof but not unfriendly. A bit aloof. And I thought, “oh he’s probably had it all, all these girlfriends,” which was not the case. I found out later that he sort of masked his shyness by being aloof and sort of mysterious.

What did the two of you have in common that was evident from the beginning?

W: Well, we had interest in each other. I was pretty shy and the fact that she was showing interest in me was my attraction to her. She would actually pay attention to me. 

D: We had our common faith in God and attending church together and being part of the youth group. There was a group there within the school, kind of a group of Christian kids who went to church and Bible study together and so we were part of that. 

W: And we enjoyed sports, you know, getting out in parks together. Like football and baseball out in Hyde park on the weekends. We both enjoyed being athletic and still do. Well, we are still active playing golf, pickleball, cycling, and we dance.

Did you go to prom together? 

W: Yes, she was on the prom committee for the year and they would do all the planning and hosting for the graduating senior class. So they would plan the party and do all that. My senior prom was held at the Dorchester Hotel ballroom on Park Lane. They had Wishbone Ash which was the band. We had a Rolls Royce limousine that picked me and my brother up and our dates. Deborah had an after prom party at her flat. I think me and Tim Fullam left her flat at about 11 o’clock that next morning.

We had a big room that they called the Commons Room where we would hang out during break times and study hall times. That’s basically where we got to know each other. ”

— Wayne Brooks-Austin (’70)

D:  And my parents were there the whole time.

Where did you depart after high school? 

W: I went to the University of Texas in Austin and Deborah was still in London finishing her senior year. So I came home for Christmas and summer. After that freshman year of college, I came back and spent the summer in London working and seeing Deborah. At the end of that summer, I went back to Texas and Deborah wound up going to Boulder, Colorado for a year at the University of Colorado.

D: I ended up at Colorado. They gave an early acceptance later in the spring. I got one from UT, but my dad had already spent some money and at the time it seemed like a lot of money. I don’t know if it would’ve been better. It was a struggling freshman year for me.

W: She went through a lot of adapting being in the U.S. For me, I had only been away for a year, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. But then we were apart for that year and that was hard on both of us. Lots of letter writing back then. That was before we had the internet.

We had such great experiences in our London years. Even though mine was fairly short, it had a huge impact on my life and we just wanted our kids to experience more of the world than Houston, Texas. ”

— Wayne Brooks-Austin (’70)

D: And phone calls were expensive.

W: So, after my sophomore year and her freshman year, we said enough is enough. She left Colorado and came back to Texas that summer. We moved in with her grandmother and we got married at the end of that summer. 

Can you describe your wedding?

D: During that summer Wayne’s parents were in the process of moving back from London to Midland, Texas. My parents still lived in London. At the beginning of the summer, I flew back to London. I insisted on having my wedding dress from London. We wanted to get married in London because we went to church together there, but we have too many stateside family members that would not have been able to make that trip. I did get a dress in London and then my mother and I flew to the U.S. with my grandmother.

We did the wedding planning and then Wayne and I started looking for churches in the Houston area. We were having trouble finding one we really liked. It had a lot to do with just the look of the church and the architecture. And then I said, “well, you know, I really liked the church.” I was born in Baytown, Texas and I just remembered that I really liked the church we attended. There were really pretty stained glass windows and stone. And so we went to check it out and it was available. We wound up selecting that church and also making sure the pastor there was okay with it. Then, I had bridesmaids flying in from different places.

W: On a hot steamy Texas day. 

W: When we got married I was 20. I was two months past my 20th birthday and she was 19 when we got married and we now have twins – a boy and a girl. They are now grown and they’re 30. We adopted them when they were five days old in 1982. We had a pregnancy but Deborah was very ill and had a condition called Crohn’s disease. The baby was born premature and too young to make it, so we only spent a few hours with him. We thought that she couldn’t get pregnant after that because of internal damages, so three years later we adopted the twins.

Did any of your kids go to ASL?

A strong foundation of our relationship is that we’re really best friends. So we have a real friendship quality that was there from the beginning. It also grows stronger over time.”

— Deborah Nelson-Austin (’71)

D: No, but they had an international life. 

W: We moved during their sophomore year of high school. We left Houston, Texas and moved to Muscat, Oman in the Middle East. They finished their sophomore year there and then spent the next two years there and graduated from the American British Academy in Muscat. So they are expat graduates as well.

D: We had been praying for an international opportunity.

W: We had such great experiences in our London years. Even though mine was fairly short, it had a huge impact on my life and we just wanted our kids to experience more of the world than Houston, Texas.  We didn’t know where, I mean, Muscat, Oman probably wasn’t the first place that came to mind. When the opportunity came up, we learned a little more about it and said yes. Then we went to Saudi Arabia after that for another four and a half years. 

What advice would you give to high school students in a relationship? 

W: I think, enjoy your time together there. One of the things we tried to do was experience the country and what it had to offer. Bike hikes, we went to museums, we went to the theater. You know, rode around the city on bicycles, played in the parks. So spend time together enjoying what England has to offer. And find out what you have in common. What do you like doing together through those activities? You will establish a friendship. Not every high school couple is going to move on to marriage. 

D: And a strong foundation of our relationship is that we’re really best friends. So we have a real friendship quality that was there from the beginning. It also grows stronger over time.

Mia George contributed to reporting.

Susan Savage (’61) and Bob Cavenagh (’61)

Helen Roth

Susan Savage (’61) and Bob Cavenagh (’61)

Susan Savage (’61) and Bob Cavenagh (’61) met at ASL in Grade 11 when Susan tripped over Bob in algebra class. Bob claims that she fell for him. At the time, the school’s campus was on Gloucester Gate and their grade consisted of around 18 students. On their first Valentine’s Day, Bob knocked on Susan’s door to give her a red tulip that he picked out of a yard. They have lived in Carlisle, Pennsylvania since 1972, and have three children and six grandchildren. They remember high school at ASL as a “less complicated time.”

What is the story of you two meeting?

Susan: The joke is, I walked into Mr. Curry’s algebra class in 1959.

Bob: All the guys were sitting in the back row with their legs straight out in front of them. She tripped over me. She fell for me.

S: I fell for him. I supposedly had to walk over his legs. Why would I have done that? I’m a pretty assertive person now, but in 1959, I was not and for me to go across a bunch of young men’s legs that I didn’t know, I thought was odd.

What did the two of you have in common that was evident from when you first met?

S: We just had some sort of attraction. We’ve been married 56 years so it’s about 60 years that we’ve known each other. My husband has a great sense of humor. He’s not boring. I can be a great cook and we love to entertain. 

What was it like at ASL when you attended?

B: At that time, the school was housed in two old houses that faced Regent’s Park. The Lower School was in one house and the Upper School was in another house. Our classrooms were all bedrooms in the house. I guess if we had 13 students in most of those classes, those rooms would have been pretty crowded. We took a single curriculum, except some people might have taken Latin instead of French. So we were pretty much in every class together. 

Photo Slider


Juxtapose by Maddy Whitman

Left: Susan Savage (’61) and Bob Cavenagh (’61) pose for a photo together. They were in a relationship in Grade 11 at ASL.

Right: Susan Cavenagh (’61) and Bob Cavenagh (’61) together at a restaurant in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. They reconnected after high school on a ship to the U.S.

S: And extracurriculars were small. I played on the baseball team and if you know me, it is kind of hilarious. Bob I think was on the basketball team because everybody had to do everything; there weren’t that many of us. 

B: I also played football. It was tag football. Our athletic facilities were walking across the street into Regent’s Park. That was it.

S: And then the other thing that people used to do was walk into Camden Town at lunchtime and go to pubs. There was this famous Ms. Eileen King who brewed soup for us because we all brought our own lunches. This was not a fancy situation at all. I think we probably paid for it. We all brought sandwiches, but she brought the soup. The lunch room had very basic cement floors, cafeteria tables and small folding rooms. And then the benches were benches. I mean, it was really rustic.

S: We grew up in a much more basic time when there weren’t so many worries that kids have nowadays. You never worried about safety.

B: I remember I was given an allowance, and that was very kind of my father. It was a generous allowance. He gave me £5 or £2 a week. On £2 a week, we could go to commercial movies, go out and have coffee and french fries, take a taxi home and do the same thing the next night. Things were relatively inexpensive and there were working people in England who didn’t make any more than my allowance. Economics were very different.

What is a memory you share from ASL?

We would go to movies down in Leicester Square and we would end up in coffee bars or pubs. ”

— Susan Savage (’61)

S: We had a ferocious English teacher, Ms. Mary Margaret Bradley.

B: She had not married. The rumor was that her paramour had been killed in the war and she had never found someone else. She was sort of blonde and to us seemed ancient. When we weren’t in class, the cigarette smoke would go right up in front of her hair and she had a yellow streak. 

S: We were convinced it was a tobacco streak. Anyhow, she was fearsome and people were terrified of her, but I think she made us better writers. 

B: She straightened out your life a little bit if you gave her half a chance to. She demanded performance.

S: And we had an annual declamation contest. 

B: We had to memorize a poem and then recite it from memory. She made us do that every year and that was horrible.

B: Schools today like ASL have a much more intellectually focused concept of how they need to serve the students. And we depended a little bit more on the luck of the draw for who the teachers were rather than any coherent planning. But the draw had worked rather well, we had good people. We didn’t get folks who were trained particularly to teach or who talked a lot about the teaching process, they just got there and they did it. 

What was your first impression of each other?

S: It was love at first sight.

B: And I thought, “oh no, there’s another one.”

Where was your first date?

S: Our first date was at the old American Embassy.

B: There was an American Embassy on the east side of Grosvenor Square and they had free movies every Friday night.

S: I met Bob there and we sat in the back of the room holding hands.

We started dating junior year and then I left. We stayed in touch by mail because a phone call from the U.S. to London was £10 for three minutes. At that time, £10 were bigger pounds than they are today and so we didn’t phone very often.”

— Bob Cavenagh (’61)

How did you spend your first Valentine’s Day together?

S: I think the first one might have been when he stole a red tulip from somebody’s yard and brought it to me. I’m pretty sure I’m right on that one. I don’t know how, probably somebody with a little fence. And he just pulled it out and appeared at my front door. That’s all I remember. I’m sure there was more to it than that. Valentine’s Day was not the hot thing it is now.

What was your favorite high school date spot?

S: We would go to movies down in Leicester Square and we would end up in coffee bars or pubs. Sometimes we would go as a group.

B: A few of the seniors and juniors our year had cars and that was always an asset.

S: We would do picnics and one thing we did is we went to Princess Margaret’s wedding. We took blankets and digestive biscuits and sat and waited for the procession. Bob got a picture of the carriage coming by with Princess Margaret in it. We did not really go to the actual wedding, but we thought we did and it was very cool. My parents thought I was spending the night with my friend and Bob’s parents thought he was spending a night with another friend, but we had a good time out on the lawn. We had guitars, it was very tame, but it was lots of fun. 

One of the things that you should look for in a relationship is friendship. I think everybody is too worried about, “oh my gosh is this the love of my life?” And yes it can be, but I think that friendship is important too. ”

— Susan Savage (’61)

How did you reconnect after high school?

B: We started dating junior year and then I left. We stayed in touch by mail because a phone call from the U.S. to London was £10 for three minutes. At that time, £10 were bigger pounds than they are today and so we didn’t phone very often. I went off to college and she went for a term to Queens College in London. And then when Susan came back, I met her on a ship. We didn’t fly back then, it was not yet common. We went back and forth by ship. 

What was your wedding like?

S: We were married on January 2, 1965 at the Navy Chapel on Nebraska Avenue in Washington D.C. It is where the vice president lives. I remember that my mother was very unhappy at the rehearsal. The doors squeaked so she had somebody come in and oil the door. Admiral Garrett agreed to perform the ceremony at our wedding which I thought was very cool. He also baptized our first child, our daughter, about eighteen months later.

What advice would you give to ASL students in a relationship? 

S: I think one of the things that you should look for in a relationship is friendship. I think everybody is too worried about, “oh my gosh is this the love of my life?” And yes it can be, but I think that friendship is important too. 

One of the things that was characteristic of the kids at ASL, and I think is probably true today, is that we had opportunities to be a little more cosmopolitan in our lives than people in the U.S.”

— Bob Cavenagh (’61)

How has ASL shaped your lives today?

S: Well, it was important for me because I got to meet Bob. My mother and father could have sent me anywhere. There was another school that had a lot of the American Military Air Force students, and I could have gone there for nothing. My mother and father decided that my sister and I would be better off at the American school which was not horrendously expensive, but a little bit. My father was not a wealthy man and they decided that they would send me there. Thank goodness, because I got to meet Bob. 

B: You know, one of the things that I think is not just ASL, but the way our lives work out, is that we have both lived in a number of places by the time we got to London. One of the things that was characteristic of the kids at ASL, and I think is probably true today, is that we had opportunities to be a little more cosmopolitan in our lives than people in the U.S. Although we weren’t traveling in the fanciest cities, we sampled a lot of different cultures, lived within them and we got to know them. I’m sure that’s true with much of ASL today.

Grace Hamilton contributed to reporting.

Jessie Williamson (’95) and Natalie Williamson (’97)

Helen Roth

Jessie Williamson (’95) and Natalie Williamson (’97)

Jessie Williamson (’95) and Natalie Williamson (’97) described their reconnection after ASL as “pure coincidence.” Natalie attended ASL for three years in lower school while Jessie attended for four years in middle school. They said they may have passed each other in the hallways. Well into their working careers, Natalie became friends with Jessie’s stepsister who invited her over to their house in Bridgehampton for a weekend. Natalie said there was an element of love at first sight. They now live in New York City and have a 2 year old daughter named Sienna.

What was the story of you meeting?

Natalie: We were introduced via his stepsister Ron who was my friend years later from ASL. It was pure coincidence. One weekend in the summer in August I was invited by her to spend the weekend at Jessie’s family home. I met Jessie, his mom, his cousins, his dogs, his step dad, his brother, his sister and basically his whole family that same weekend. We were having dinner with his mom and I explained that my sisters and I all went to ASL and we realized that his family had lived there and Jessie went there. We were probably in the same yearbook.

Jessie: It was kind of a random meeting. She was good friends with my sister and I got a call saying, “would you mind if I came out this weekend to your mom’s place and maybe bring a friend?” And so you know, we were on really good terms so I said, “yeah, sure. Let me give my mom a call.” And the answer was yes. And so we met as a result of her sort of tagging along for the purposes of her hanging out with my sister. They were doing like a whole weekend of different social events. That was when we met in 2013.

N: We were well into our working careers.  

Jessie Williamson (’95) and Natalie Williamson (’97) celebrate their wedding on the beach in Bridgehampton, New York Oct. 10. Natalie said when they met, it was love at first sight. (Photo courtesy of Jessie and Natalie Williamson)

J: We were both NYC professionals and I had been in a couple of longer term relationships. I was having fun dating and definitely not looking for a commitment at all. Then Natalie popped up out of the blue and we had this amazing connection. It really was like a shared experience for us as expats to be living overseas.  

N: I would say for me the interesting thing was that you usually don’t meet someone’s family and go to their home until well into dating. I got a peek inside into more than just Jessie. I saw more than what is normal in your first encounter with someone. It allowed me to be a bit more vulnerable and not as guarded because we were real in a way.

How did you spend your first date together?

N: An entire weekend with his family hanging out. 

J: We were going from one ridiculously cool party to another and there was midnight swimming with bonfires and the super mood crowd. But it was not a date at all, just me and my sister and Natalie just hanging around. Then we had our first date. [To Natalie] You thought it was one place but I thought it was another. It was a couple of weeks later in New York. I thought it was at a place called Desnuda in the East Village. The guy was a former sushi chef at Nobu who made Cuban cuisine. 

N: My memory is that it was at a Mexican mezcal tequila bar. It was a cool Mexican spot where you could sit in birdcages and sip your margaritas.

J: You probably forgot our first date because you had so much fun. The reason I know this one was first is because I had to pick it. That was my pick and the Mexican one was your pick. 

What did the two of you have in common that was evident from the very beginning?

J: I think ASL. When you are telling your life story, it is definitely one of the stops. So I think that came up pretty quickly.

N: I think just our moral and ethical code, like our integrity, aligned nicely with each other. So when you have similar shared values, it makes creating a life together much easier. His humor definitely helps. We laugh a lot and we do have a fun time together. We like the same kind of food, like the same restaurants.  

What did you do for your first Valentine’s Day?

J: We went to Palm Beach over President’s weekend. We went out with a couple of Natalie’s friends to a polo match. It was just a relaxing day.

N: Jessie got me a very thoughtful present. I am an equestrian so he got me this beautiful Hermes vintage horse head bracelet. Probably one of the better presents.

How long was it until you decided to get married?

J: I made up my mind within two months. 

Our moral and ethical code, like our integrity, aligned nicely with each other. So when you have similar shared values, it makes creating a life together much easier.”

— Natalie Williamson ('97)

N: We got engaged around a year later. Jessie and I had both dated other people. We were older and knew what we wanted. When you know you know and I think there was an element of love at first sight when we met. Jessie’s mom always says that I saw on that weekend the way he looked at you across the room. She always says that I knew you were the one. But we had a short engagement and we got married four months after we got engaged because there is a little beach club here in Bridgehampton that we liked and everything was booked for a year. Then all of a sudden there was a cancelation for October 10 and we got engaged I think early July, so we ended up quickly putting together a fun beach wedding. We got married in 2015.

What lasting impact did ASL have on your lives today?

J: I remember a warm, fun and friendly place. All the cool things we did that weren’t necessarily part of school: the dinner dances, going to Primrose Hill, doing the fun run. I love the fact that I come from a family where high school sports were important, and it was cool that we had a great basketball team. I think that what stuck with me now is the interesting blends of perspectives at once. That exposure is something that stuck with me to this day. 

N: The fact that we would call our teachers by their first names which was non-traditional back then, gave a sense of making you feel like an equal partner to the learning process. I remember that and how it helped build confidence in what your opinions are and how you speak to an elder.

You are living in a huge city. The world is at your fingertips, so the most important thing is trust. If you have it with the person you are with, enjoy it. ”

— Jessie Williamson ('95)

Do you have kids? Do you think that they will go to ASL?

N: We have one daughter and she is 2 and a half. I think if we lived in London for sure we would love to send our daughter there. Actually, since we have been looking at pre 3 year old programs in New York, I always reference my time at ASL as a benchmark for the types of programs and schools I would be interested in sending her to. It helped from my perspective to narrowing and choosing the schools.

What advice would you give to high school students in a relationship?

N: Being open and honest. I think honesty and being able to express yourself openly with your partner allows for a foundation of trust which is important. I would say being true to yourself and true to the relationship.

J: You are living in a huge city. The world is at your fingertips, so the most important thing is trust. If you have it with the person you are with, enjoy it. Your intuition is probably giving you signs so make sure you are with the person that you trust.

Areje Al-Shakar (’99) and Hamzah Bawkher (’99)

Helen Roth

Areje Al-Shakar (’99) and Hamzah Bawkher (’99)

Areje Al-Shakar (’99) and Hamzah Bawkher’s (’99) relationship blossomed from their shared experiences not only at ASL, but also through their third culturedness – they were both raised in a culture other than their parents’ and countries of nationality. While they did not date at ASL, Facebook reconnected them in 2010 when they discovered they were both in Abu Dhabi at the same time. From there, they began to connect on a deeper level. They are now living in Bahrain and hope that when they have kids, they will be able to give them the same education experience that they had at ASL.

What is the story of you meeting?

Hamzah: In Grade 4 we both joined ASL. So, in 1990 Areje was in Mr. Floyd’s class and I was in Ms. Widdies’ class and we swapped over for math and English. I knew who she was. I think back then, the boys stayed with the boys and the girls stayed with the girls. There wasn’t that much intermixing at that age. 

Areje: I remember Hamzah because he is a twin, so during those years twins were more of a rarity. Him and his sister, everybody knew that they were twins.

H: The following year in Grade 5, we were in the same homeroom and our teacher was Mr. Baldock. I knew she was a smart person. She used to get 100% on every test. In Grade 6, my homeroom teacher was Ms. Simpson and she showed this report from a girl in another classroom about Egypt and the penmanship was perfect. The illustrations were perfect and it had a big A+ on the front. I remember looking at it and thinking, “oh my goodness, mine doesn’t look like that,” and it was actually Areje’s paper. 

Areje Al-Shakar (’99) and Hamzah Bawkher (’99) celebrate their marriage at a hotel in Bahrain Aug. 2017. They first had an outdoor religious ceremony Apr. 20, 2017. (Photo courtesy of Areje Al-Shakar and Hamzah Bawkher)

A: After ASL, I left London and he left London. I was in Bahrain, so what reconnected us actually was Facebook. I would see Hamzah’s pictures and updates and I would like them and comment on them. It was just really nice to see how everybody from ASL was doing. The next time I saw Hamzah was in 2010 which was the first time I saw him since 1995. It was kind of an ironic situation, but Hamzah was visiting his uncle who at that time was living in Bahrain, so I got to meet Hamzah at my office for 10 minutes. Hamzah and I were meant to meet again the next day for dinner, but he had something else he needed to do. So we just had that brief interaction and then we exchanged a few messages online. To be honest, I never thought Hamzah was really interested in me. I always found him to be a really nice guy and thought that he was attractive, but I didn’t go there.

But in 2016, when he said he was in the desert, I also happened to be in Abu Dhabi and we went out for a coffee just to catch up. It was just so easy to talk to each other and bring up topics. The common thing that we actually shared was our ASL time and I think it really creates this foundation. Even though we didn’t have the same friends, it was just easy for us to build that bond. What created our marriage was that it was a foundation of a friendship first and then it evolved.

H: A third culture kid is somebody who has spent their former years in a culture that is not their own. It changes you. One of the reasons Areje and I could hit it off so well is because I got the feeling that a lot of the people she grew up with once she moved back to Bahrain, weren’t very third culture. For me as well. So her and I were both third culture kids and that kind of gave us a perspective of looking at the world through a different point of view. 

What was your first impression of each other once you reconnected?

A: At ASL, my impression of Hamzah was “oh, it’s so cool that they are like twins” and those were my thoughts around him and his sister. I remember very clearly one of my memories of Hamzah was at Ramadan. We are both from Muslim families so during the holy month of Ramadan we would be fasting, so there would be a bunch of us kids like from our grade that would sit together in the corner of the cafeteria because we wouldn’t be eating. Then in PE I remember the teacher would let us not do the mile run or anything that would cause us to get thirsty.

When I first saw him, my first impression of him was that I thought he was very articulate. I enjoyed his conversation and it was supposed to just be coffee but then it went “ok do you want to grab dinner” and I didn’t mind it. It was the first time that I felt very comfortable. I met him without having any expectations because I had this pretense that obviously he is a good-looking guy. He is in his 30s. And so from that it was a nice surprise to see that there was an interest for him to keep in touch with me. 

In Grade 5, we were in the same homeroom and our teacher was Mr. Baldock. I knew she was a smart person. She used to get 100% on every test. ”

— Areje Al-Shakar (’99)

Funnily enough, I really did not expect this to become a romantic thing because I was very transparent with him because he actually asked me during our coffee “how come you are not married?” and I didn’t take offense to it. I was just like “oh, he is just a friend asking me.”

Can you describe your proposal?

H: I proposed to her just a bit old-fashioned, it’s what the guys in movies do. Bahrain is a small island and it is a flat island so there are not many places you can do it, but we did it on the balcony of the swimming pool area in my apartment building. I just got down on one knee and asked her. I was pretty sure she was going to say yes. I didn’t spring it on her because I am a very cautious person, so if there was a 50% chance of her saying no, I probably wouldn’t do it.

A: And he didn’t propose to me with a ring. He proposed to me with a bracelet. It was funny because I remember in the days we were getting to know each other, I remember telling him about some of my history with people who I almost got engaged with. One of the stories he remembered very well is when I was much younger I almost got engaged, and this guy that I almost got engaged to kept complaining that I have really thin fingers and that I don’t have the standard ring size. I remember telling Hamzah the story because I said I was so embarrassed, because it was supposed to be the happiest moment of my life and my soon-to-have-been- fiance was complaining that I have fingers that are thin. That stuck in his mind, so he got me a bracelet. 

Can you describe your wedding?

H: It was in a very nice hall at the Four Seasons here in Bahrain, and it was a really beautiful room filled with close family members and a few of my friends from different parts of my life, including ASL. To think about it, it was a surreal day.

In 2019, Areje Al-Shakar (’99) and Hamzah Bawkher (’99) attend their ASL 20 year reunion with Bawkher’s former homeroom teacher, Ms. Simpson. While they were not in a relationship throughout their time at ASL, they have shared memories from being in the same grade.

A: I think for me what was really intimate was the religious ceremony which actually was perfect in terms of number of people and size because it was outdoors in the garden. I had always wanted to have an outdoor wedding but I live on an island where the temperature is really hot so we only have a few months in the year where you can actually do anything outdoor. We wanted the date to be significant and April 20 ended up becoming a very significant date for us, because in 2010 when Hamzah was here and we met, it was April 20. Then when we had coffee again in Abu Dhabi, it was six years later on April 20. So I wanted April 20 to be the date where we signed everything. What was really nice is that we had a Muslim ceremony because both of our families are Muslim, so we agreed that this is what we wanted. We then planned for our wedding in August, and like Hamzah said, it was really nice because it was kind of like a reunion of a few of our very close friends.

What advice would you give to ASL students in a relationship?

A: I really think that you should enjoy high school, and it is great if you can date but I don’t think it is a be all and end all. There is so much pressure when you are there trying to find somebody, and I think that ultimately for your lifetime partner, I always think that you have time and it will happen when it will happen. Some people are lucky enough to find somebody as early as high school, some people find it like us. We met at 35 and got married at 36. Enjoy high school, do all the activities, focus on getting into the program you want to get into afterwards.

H: When you are in high school, you are quite young. You don’t know what you are made of just yet but I know quite a few people who were high school sweethearts and then are married today. Enjoy your friends, enjoy your school, enjoy London. Everything happens for a reason.

Lisa Cottle (’80) and Michael Cottle (’79)

Helen Roth

Lisa Cottle (’80) and Michael Cottle (’79)

Lisa Cottle (’80) and Michael Cottle (’79) are inseparable. Even when their relationship adjourned after college, Lisa said she could not stop thinking about him. They parted their separate ways, got married, had kids and started living different lives. 20 years later when they found out they were both getting divorced, they found their way back to one another and in 2017 they tied the knot. Their ASL friends attended the wedding. They are now living in Estero, Florida with their combined families: five kids and three grandchildren. 

What is the story of you meeting?

L: Well we knew each other from school, but we started dating on one of our spring break trips. We went skiing to Switzerland and one of the nights we were there, we all went out for dinner to this little Swiss restaurant. There were probably 10 or 12 of us sitting around a big table and Michael was sitting right next to me. 

M: I was at ASL from Grade 3 to Grade 11 and I graduated a year early so I was only there until junior year. 

L: I was there for only two years from 1977-79 and in 1979 I moved back to the states with my family. We were dating at this point and Michael also moved back because he was starting college. I had one year of high school to finish in Pittsburgh and Michael started college at Hamilton College in upstate New York. 

M: Lisa ended up going to SMU and so I transferred from Hamilton to the University of Dallas, which was nearby. So, for a while, we were in the same town and dating but we weren’t in the same school. 

What was your first impression of one another? 

Lisa Cottle (’80) and Michael Cottle (’79) pose for photos at their junior prom. Lisa said she always knew that Michael was “the one.”
(Photo courtesy of Lisa Cottle and Michael Cottle )

M: I thought she was beautiful as she is now. 

L: Michael had and still does have a great sense of humor. He jokes around a lot and he is really funny. I was attracted to that. He is also very kind, gentle and considerate.

What did the two of you have in common that was evident from from the very beginning?

M: So, I think it’s something that still exists today, which is this tremendous passion for travel and experiencing new things. I kind of feed off of Lisa’s energy. She’s always so enthusiastic about doing things. I love the fact that she pushes us to do things and I really like that opportunity to explore things together. 

L: We have so much in common. We’re both very adventurous. We love food and wine and going out for dinner. We love going to the beach.

M: For instance, 20 years after we got back together, we both ran the Paris Marathon. 

L: So we’re on the same page about everything. And that’s why we’re so compatible and so happy. I think it has never happened in our lives until now. 

Did you date all throughout college?

M: No. After about six months of school, she dumped me and so that ended our first time together. 

Did you reconnect after college?

M: Yes. Almost 20 years later we reconnected because we both were getting a separate divorce. I was living in California and she was in Chicago. We both had kids that were older. We were going to get back together and get married, but then we decided not to because we couldn’t leave each of our families.

L: I guess we just decided that Michael would have had to move from California to Chicago. It wasn’t going to be the best thing for his kids. So we decided not to go through with getting married at that time. This was probably in 2001, so 20 years after we’d been dating at ASL. 

I never stopped thinking about him. I always knew somehow in my heart that we would end up being together. ”

— Lisa Cottle (’80)

M: And then 17 years later, we reconnected when our kids were older. They were out of the house and the timing was a lot better to get together. Lisa was living in California so it was very convenient. A year later we were married. 

L: We’re definitely soulmates and we should have been together from day one. It just never happened. But now that it’s clear to everyone who knows us that it was meant to be. I think we always wanted to be with one another but after we split up and went our separate ways and got married and started having completely different lives, we didn’t want to interfere with each other. So we just didn’t contact each other but I never stopped thinking about him. I always knew somehow in my heart that we would end up being together. 

M: I thought I’d be in a wheelchair by then.

L: I pictured us being together in our 80s or something. But thank goodness it happened sooner than that.

How has ASL shaped who you are today?

I was living in California and she was in Chicago. We both had kids that were older. We were going to get back together and get married, but then we decided not to because we couldn’t leave each of our families.”

— Michael Cottle (’79)

M: I think it has allowed us to grow up faster than most high school kids. When we came back to go to college, our peers were like getting drunk and going crazy and we kind of already did that. I think we also got exposed to culture and travel that you typically wouldn’t know, if you were in some high school in the United States.

L: You’re surrounded by all your friends and everyone you know are from very diverse backgrounds. It’s made us just feel very comfortable and open with all different kinds of people no matter who they are and where they’re coming from. I think a lot of kids that grow up in the states in one little hometown their whole life don’t get exposed to that like we did.

And we have a lot of friends all over the world. I wouldn’t change it for anything. It was the best years of my life, living there and going to high school there and to this day London is our favorite city in the world.

What advice would you give to couples at ASL?

L: You need to share a lot of the same interests and enjoy doing things together. Also, realizing that you are two different people and you are not always going to agree on things. You are going to have differences and there are going to be arguments from time to time. But always be gentle and considerate of your partner.

Ella Podurgiel contributed to reporting.

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