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Campus love story ends with couple earning diplomas together

Viewed from above, the tops of their respective mortarboards might read Mr. and Mrs.

The heads beneath those black caps will belong to Ernest and Dawn Cook, and when they walk across the stage on May 8 to receive their diplomas from Austin Peay State University, the two may have to dip those heads to conceal a few tears.
Viewed from above, the tops of their respective mortarboards might read “Mr.” and “Mrs.”

The heads beneath those black caps will belong to Ernest and Dawn Cook, and when they walk across the stage on May 8 to receive their diplomas from Austin Peay State University, the two may have to dip those heads to conceal a few tears.

It'll be an emotional day for sure. The couple, who met, fell in love, married and supported each other during their arduous years as nontraditional undergraduates, will now share the joy of earning their degrees in public management at the same time. Or rather, almost the same time.

“I tease him that my name starts with ‘D' and his starts with ‘E,' so I'll get to go first,” Dawn said.

The Cooks met in 2002, while taking, of all things, an online course at Austin Peay. Their professor required the class meet once face-to-face, to learn about the people behind those names on their computer screens.

Dawn and Ernest struck up a friendship. Nothing more. They didn't see each other for another year, when again they found themselves taking the same class.

“I was going through a rough time, through a divorce,” Dawn said. “We were nothing other than just friends. Then, after my divorce, we started dating.”

Ernest earned his associate degree soon after they became a couple and was ready to leave APSU behind. Dawn, however, convinced him to tough it out with her and earn a bachelor's degree.

Her motivation helped him through the next several years in the University's Department of Public Management program, and in Ernest's last semester, when he could have taken a much-needed break, he returned the favor to his new wife.

“I was taking my last class, a math class, to graduate, and he took it, too,” she said. “He didn't even need a math at that point. He took it just to support me, and he hates math.”

When the couple takes the stage, one after the other, on May 8 to receive their hard-earned diplomas, they'll be cheered on by their six children, two of whom are enrolled at APSU.

And, to further instill the value of education in this next generation, both Ernest and Dawn, after a brief summer respite, plan on enrolling in classes next fall for either a second bachelor's or a master's degree.

For more information or to contact the Cooks, please call Charles Booth with the APSU Office of Public Relations and Marketing at 931-221-7597. -- Charles Booth