“Hear ye, Hear ye. Today, on the 28th day of April in the 2008 year of our Lord, I shall tell you a story. A story of good, and of evil, a story that will take you on a magical story of debauchery, lust, wildlife and, of course, love. It is a story that will hopefully have a happy ending.”
So began a medieval-themed skit performed on a rainy Monday morning in April in front of a Holman Hall classroom audience of Art History II students, a video camera, and a few privy faculty and staff members.
From her seat in this classroom, Susan LaBonte ’08 had no idea that this skit was all for her.
Or that the actors in front of her were not a student acting group being sponsored by her professor, as her professor had led the class to believe, but rather friends of her boyfriend, Jake Vishneski.
Or that Vishneski was one of the actors, disguised under a suit of armor and high-pitched speaking voice.
Or that the happy ending the narrator spoke of depended on her unscripted answer to Vishneski’s final line, delivered on one knee, helmet off. “Susie. You are the love of my life, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you marry me?”
The story of Vishneski, LaBonte, and what is probably the most original proposal idea the TCNJ campus has ever seen does have a happy ending, thanks to LaBonte’s enthusiastic cry of “Yes!” Want to see for yourself? You can watch the entire skit and proposal on YouTube:
The skit itself is reminiscent of Monty Python, starring the knight, a two-man horse, a lobster, a bear, and an evil lord. The concept came from an idea one of Vishneski’s friends had after he began asking for their advice on creative proposal ideas. “I wanted to do something original and not cheesy for the proposal,” Vishneski said via e-mail.
“I really had no idea how Jake was going to propose, but the way he chose to propose really isn’t too surprising to me,” LaBonte said. “Jake is very funny and charming, and I think the skit illustrates that. He is also caring, respectful, and honorable, and I think the amount of time and effort he took to plan this so that it would be special for me really demonstrates that as well.”
Vishneski, who grew up in Shawsville, VA, and recently graduated from Virginia Military Institute, went to great lengths to surprise LaBonte with the multilayered proposal. He contacted LaBonte’s Art History II professor, Lois Fichner-Rathus, who agreed to give him class time to execute his plan; she even e-mailed her students to tell them a student acting group would be performing a new skit for the class during the course’s final session. Vishneski also notified campus police, so they would not be alarmed by the costumed students.
The morning of the skit, LaBonte was under the impression that Vishneski had returned home to Virginia after visiting her over the weekend. Instead, Vishneski was just a few miles away at a hotel on Route 1, where he met up with a group of friends from Virginia who had volunteered to be part of the skit.
“I had no idea that (the skit) was a proposal, and Jake really planned it all perfectly,” LaBonte said, adding that she realized what was happening when the horse broke apart and one of Vishneski’s friends held up a stereo playing the couple’s song, Journey’s “Faithfully.” “In that same moment, I looked over at the ring, and Jake took off his helmet. I was in complete shock.”
That Vishneski’s elaborate proposal went off without a hitch is symbolic of the strength of the couple’s relationship. Vishneski and LaBonte met in January 2006 in France, while they were both studying as part of the Cultural Experiences Abroad program. The two became immediate friends and spent a lot of time together during the semester abroad, but they didn’t start dating until they had both returned home—he to Virginia and her to her hometown of Lincroft—and realized how much they missed each other.
“We remained in a long-distance relationship throughout our junior and senior years of college and tried to visit each other about every two weeks,” LaBonte said.
The fiancés won’t have to weather the long-distance relationship much longer. After getting married in January 2009 at a church in New Jersey where LaBonte’s parents were married, the newlyweds plan to live in Virginia Beach. LaBonte, who majored in biology and minored in chemistry and art history at TCNJ, will be working as a research assistant at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk and plans to begin medical school in fall 2009. Vishneski was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army and will be stationed at Fort Story in Virginia Beach.
And, if the romantic skit that marked a new chapter in their lives is any indication, they will live happily ever after.