‘I Do!’: Former Lehman students find love despite pandemic

LS 73-2021 Lehman Students Proposal_196
Two former Lehman College students, Giancarlo Paternoster and Julia Djokic, get engaged on campus on Aug. 19, 2021.
Courtesy Lehman College

As Lehman students head back to campus for the fall semester, the community has one extra reason to celebrate. Two former students recently got engaged in a surprise proposal outside the campus building they once shared a class in.

Giancarlo Paternoster, 27, proposed to his girlfriend Julia Djokic, 26, in front of Davis Hall on Aug. 19. The two had bonded while taking an organic chemistry course the college offers to students preparing for careers in health professions.

Paternoster is a first-year medical student at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, while Djokic is a first-year student at NYU College of Dentistry.

With help from their former instructor Sharif Elhakem, Lehman College’s chief laboratory technician, Paternoster tricked Djokic into thinking she’d been asked to return to campus to speak to a pre-dental student group. Instead, Elhakem led her to Davis Hall, where she found Paternoster with a bouquet of roses, a sparkling diamond ring, and a life-changing question. Their big moment came roughly two years after they took their final exams and completed their organic chemistry class.

“We fell in love here, in this building,” Paternoster said standing outside Davis Hall. “This is really where we laid the foundation for our relationship.”

Paternoster and Djokic initially met in February 2018 while taking a biology course at Purchase College, SUNY. As the end of the semester neared, they discovered that they needed to take organic chemistry as a prerequisite for dental and medical school and discussed possible options. Each decided to take the summer class at Lehman, Djokic said.

However, Djokic hails from Somers, about 35 miles from the Bronx, and she doubted she could make the trek to campus. So Paternoster, who lives in Scarsdale, stepped in with a fix.

“As he usually does, Giancarlo came up with a solution to make my life easier, which was to drive to his house each morning where we would then take his car and drive the final 20 minutes to Lehman together,” Djokic said.

The two initially considered themselves good friends, but after a summer of teaming up to prepare for exams and lab assignments they realized there was something special about their relationship and started dating that fall.

To others, however, their personal chemistry was apparent both inside and outside the lab.

“I could see the spark there three years ago,” Elhakem said. “They were becoming closer in their friendship and studying together and helping each other out in the course … I knew, with time, something might happen.”

With their engagement at Davis Hall, the couple has new reason to come back and visit the campus. Both had already felt a strong connection to the College.

“I absolutely loved my experience at Lehman,” Djokic said. “The staff I met were incredibly kind, the students were all hard-working, and there was a warm feeling of camaraderie amongst them. Even though I was only at Lehman for a short time, I felt very at home there.”