For many Penn Staters, joining a THON org plays a key role in finding their niche on campus. But Brandywine students Joelle and Derek had no idea joining a THON org would also lead them to find love.
Joelle and Derek met one night at a Halloween party at the University Park campus early in their college careers. Joelle knew Derek by name, as the two students were part of the same THON org at Brandywine, but they had never actually spoken. Joelle immediately found Derek attractive, but she was hesitant to make the first move. She decided to make small talk and leave it at that — soon after, Joelle simply brushed the crush off.
But once Joelle and Derek began to spend more time within the same circle of friends, Joelle remembered why she felt the way she did the first time they met. The two students developed a fast friendship, and even hung out in between classes when they could.
“It was all over from that moment,” Joelle said. “I couldn’t get him out of my head from that point forward.”
One day, a small group got together to go to a Phillies game. Before they arrived at Derek’s house to pick him up, Joelle finally decided to confess her crush to a friend. The friends even came up with a plan to make Derek jealous without Joelle actually having to admit the crush to him — they gushed about another guy in front of Derek. But Joelle couldn’t deny her feelings no matter how hard she tried.
The group arrived at the game and enjoyed the opportunity to bond. As luck would have it, Joelle and Derek even ended up sitting next to each other in the stadium. They spent most of the game getting to know each other more.
“My roommate and friend left to go and get food and somehow Derek and I ended up sitting next to one another,” Joelle said. “We got our first picture with one another. Overall we had a great time.”
After the game was over, it was clear Joelle and Derek might have more chemistry than just a friendship. During the car ride home, the two enjoyed talking together, and Joelle even had her legs in Derek’s lap — though she couldn’t exactly explain why, Joelle knew the connection was real.
“I was looking out the window trying not to smile as wide as my mouth would allow,” Joelle said. “Everything with him just felt natural and it felt like I was meant to be there with him.”
By the time the Blue-White Game rolled around at the end of the year, Joelle knew she couldn’t hide her feelings forever. Their group of friends decided to travel to University Park for the game together, and she couldn’t get him out of her mind.
Though Joelle was still hesitant to bring up her feelings, she eventually decided to give it a shot. That night, she decided to send the risky text to see if he felt the same way. To her excitement, Derek finally admitted he felt the same.
“I eventually got it out of him that he liked me,” Joelle said. “I texted the friend from the Phillies game and my sister and they were so excited for me.”
But Joelle and Derek didn’t become a couple right away. Although the weight of the secret crush was off their shoulders, it took a while to take the next step. The two students had been in the same friend group for a long time, and it wasn’t easy figuring out how to best navigate the situation.
They began to hang out more, and the relationship blossomed from there; however, they decided to wait until the right moment came before telling the rest of their friends about the relationship.
“We kept our relationship on the down-low until our group of friends went to the beach together and he grabbed my hand on the boardwalk in Atlantic City,” Joelle said. “Everyone was in shock and whispering to one another because we didn’t tell anyone we were together.”
After Joelle’s second year of college, she decided to transfer to the University Park campus — unfortunately, Derek wasn’t planning on doing the same. Joelle realized how much she loved Derek and was afraid the transfer would be the end of their relationship, but luckily they agreed the long distance was worth the effort.
“He ended up staying with me and has been with me ever since. He decided to stay at Penn State Brandywine all four years of college, making our relationship long distance, but neither of us has regretted one moment,” Joelle said. “The best times of our lives have been when he’s been visiting me in State College.”
The couple will graduate in 2018, and they currently have plans to move in together shortly after and to get married in the next few years.
“I’m so thankful I decided to come to Penn State,” Joelle said. “I actually wanted to go to another school and didn’t even want to go to Penn State Brandywine. But our decisions led us to be together and these past two years have been the best I have ever lived in my life and they just keep getting better.”