It wasn’t exactly fireworks when Maria Stamatogiannakis and Andrew Daw were together as teenagers in a student interchange group traveling from Jacksonville to Austria. Maria recollects, “I wasn’t a huge fan of his when we first met.” Andrew said jokingly that the feeling was mutual. “Neither of us were that into each other. It took us a little to warm up to each other.”


However, once they got to Austria, they actually ended up becoming good friends, and then dated briefly when they returned home. But after a month, they decided to call it off and just remain friends. Still, they talked on the phone every single day. Those phone calls brought them so close that they eventually started dating again. They dated all through high school. Andrew was a year ahead of Maria at Episcopal High School and she was at Ponte Vedra High.

When it was time for college they were determined to stay together, even though they ended up at rival schools — Andrew went to the University of Florida and Maria was at Florida State. They made the drive often back and forth between Gainesville and Tallahassee, taking part in each other’s college experiences. Andrew was very impressed that Maria was winning awards at FSU and very involved in leadership activities. “She sets the bar very high.”

Maria was studying abroad in London and Andrew planned a trip to visit. Andrew had the engagement ring with him and he knew Maria was getting suspicious. He hid the ring in a bag and safety pinned it to the bottom of his pants pocket. “I had a highly expensive object and it was my great-grandmother’s ring. It was not the type of thing I could lose.” Maria admitted rummaging through his belongings but she never saw it. On March 5, 2015, they went on a hiking trip on a mountain near Barcelona. He planned to propose on the summit and, of course, wanted it to just be the two of them. A hiker struck up a conversation with them and wouldn’t leave. Andrew was panicking that they would miss the last train and he would lose the opportunity to pop the question in the beautiful spot. Finally, the hiker left and Andrew quickly got on one knee. Maria said yes, and they sprinted back down the mountain and caught the train in the nick of time.

Maria and Andrew were married on Dec. 31 at St. John the Divine Greek Orthodox Church in Jacksonville. It included many Greek traditions, including the ceremonial walk three times around the altar, symbolizing the first time the couple walks as husband and wife. Andrew and Maria especially enjoyed the part where the couple gives hugs and kisses to all of their family members.

The reception followed at the Garden Club. Maria and her father choreographed their dance as a surprise to everyone. It was a mash-up of Greek music and a medley of top hits including Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable,” “YMCA” and “Crazy in Love.” Maria said her father was a real trooper through the two months of practices.

The bonus of their plan for a New Year’s Eve wedding and reception on the river was that they could include the spectacular downtown fireworks display as part of their celebration.

Maria and Andrew have had a lot to juggle in their first months of marriage. Andrew is a Ph.D. student at Cornell University. Maria is a third-grade teacher in Charleston, S.C., working in the Teach for America program. She will join Andrew in Ithaca, N.Y., after this school year. They are most thankful for supporting each other with their careers, giving them the confidence to reach the goals they are now realizing. Andrew adds it doesn’t hurt that, “Maria has the greatest smile I have ever seen.”

They have certainly come a long way from the rough start as traveling teenagers. It may have taken a while but, as Andrew now puts it, “We make a great team.”

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