Francisco Garcia and Michael Sanchez both started the Medical Assistant program at UEI College in Phoenix hoping to find a career they could enjoy, but by graduation day they had found love – not only in their career but also in each other.
On Saturday, May 21, hundreds of students walked across the stage to collect their diplomas during the UEI College graduation in Phoenix. Francisco and Michael stood at the end of the line, waiting to be the last two to receive their diplomas. Just as Francisco stepped up the stage, the school’s Director of Career Services, LaTara Marshall, stopped the ceremony.
“I apologize for the interruption, but we have to make an announcement,” she said, ushering Francisco toward the microphone.
“My name is Francisco Garcia,” he said. “This is my boyfriend, Michael Sanchez, and I’m going to ask him to marry me.”
The crowd erupted into cheers as Francisco got down on one knee and presented a ring to a very surprised Michael. He said yes.
Francisco and Michael did not know each other before enrolling at UEI. They were in the same program but attending classes on opposite days and at opposite times. What they had in common was a special relationship with their instructors Ambrett Knight and Rachel Whiteside.
Ms. Knight was Francisco’s instructor and Ms. Whiteside taught Michael.
“They both have a great personality,” Ms. Whiteside said. “They are both people-oriented… They are funny and fun. They both have the same ambition and goals.”
Michael recalls Ms. Whiteside introducing the two of them —Michael, Francisco. Francisco, Michael—and then sent them off to mingle. They exchanged numbers and the relationship began.
‘THERE WAS NO TEACHER WAS LIKE THAT’
There was instant puppy love when Francisco arrived for their first date with a bouquet of roses but maintaining a relationship while working full time and attending school on opposite schedules was a challenge.
“There were lots of ups and downs, but we made it work,” Francisco said. “I would visit him on my days off from school and he would visit me on his days off of school… We didn’t get to see each other as much as we wanted, but as we went along, we figured out how we could maintain it.”
“It was fun to see them go through that journey together,” said Francisco’s instructor, Ms. Knight.
Michael and Francisco did their best to keep the focus on school. They both describe their relationship with Ms. Knight and Ms. Whiteside as a “Mama Bear.” They knew their teachers loved them, but they also knew it would come down to tough love if they lost sight of their dreams.
“Finishing high school and even in college, there was no teacher was like that,” Michael said. “She made everything so enjoyable. She got into more depth with us and taught us things some instructors might not teach their students. She was direct with us. She pushed us to graduate.”
The new couple ended up being placed at the same externship site. Their boss recognized the connection and allowed them to work together. Both were hired following their externships, so now they can spend every day together and so far, they have no complaints.
‘I WAS SHAKING’
As they stepped off the stage at graduation they were inundated with hugs and congratulations, even from strangers. Francisco had been planning his proposal for several months. He and Michael had gone ring shopping together, so Michael knew it was coming but having it happen in front of a crowd was a surprise.
“I was shaking,” Michael said. “I was still shaking even after the ceremony.”
Ms. Knight said she was only half surprised.
“Frankie is really surprising,” she said. “He used to always surprise me with flowers and my favorite candy. He’s that guy. I wasn’t surprised by the action, but I was surprised he did it here.”
“It was amazing to see that they are happy together,” said Ms. Whiteside. “I think they will continue to motivate each other to do great things in life. I think it’s amazing that they are sticking together. It’s a wonderful thing.”
As Francisco and Michael walked off the stage LaTara announced it was the first-ever proposal during a UEI College graduation in Phoenix.
“We were not only the first couple to propose during the graduation but the first openly gay couple,” Francisco said. “I never come first with anything but I’m first in loving my fiancé and proposing at graduation. It was really special.”