Lehman’s Davis Hall Becomes the Backdrop of a Surprise Engagement for Former Students
As Lehman students head back to campus for the Fall ’21 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 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 post-baccalaureate students preparing for careers in health professions.
Paternoster is now 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’s chief College laboratory technician, Paternoster tricked Djokic into thinking she’d been asked to return to campus to speak to a predental 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.
Standing outside Davis Hall, Paternoster said, “We fell in love here, in this building….This is really where we laid the foundation for our relationship.”
Paternoster and Djokic initially met in February 2018 while taking a post-baccalaureate 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, New York, 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.”
“I think everybody saw it before we did,” Djokic said.
With their engagement at Davis Hall, the couple has new reason to come back and visit the campus. Both already felt a strong connection to the College.
“I absolutely loved my experience at Lehman. The staff I met were incredibly kind, the students were all hardworking, and there was a warm feeling of camaraderie amongst them,” Djokic said. “Even though I was only at Lehman for a short time, I felt very at home there.”
Paternoster agreed. “I found the learning environment to be kind yet rigorous, and I found my fellow students to be both challenging and supportive,” he said. “I'm grateful for the guidance I received while I was enrolled as a student, and I look forward to being able to pass my blessings on to others when I am a physician.”