Juliet Holwill had clearly come to trust her fellow UC Berkeley engineering grad student and fellow Aussie Ben Rubinstein, because one sunny September day in 2006 she let him pick her up in a car, blindfold her, and drive her off to an unknown destination.
It wasn’t very far — only about 10 blocks north of campus. When the blindfold came off, she found herself in the city of Berkeley’s municipal Rose Garden, a Depression-era construction project laid out like an amphitheater with stone-walled terraces. Its main promenade is marked by a semicircular redwood pergola, beneath which Ben had set up an intimate table for two with white linen, tall glasses, effervescent liquids, and roses of the deepest red (from a florist, not bootlegged from the garden).
Before they were done toasting the occasion, Ben had popped the traditional question, and Juliet had accepted. Their celebratory engagement weekend included a stay high up in San Francisco’s historic Mark Hopkins Hotel on Nob Hill. And more roses.
They were married in June of 2007, in Melbourne, where both were raised. They first encountered each other while they were still in high school, during the first days of the 1998 National Youth Science Forum in Canberra. Their attraction was immediate and mutual, but there was a hesitation-waltz aspect to its expression (“Little did we know that our feelings for one another were reciprocated.”).
Juliet thought Ben was “really entertaining and unique.” Ben, although they “hit it off” right away and he “thought that Juliet was very cute,” could not quite believe that she liked him — “so six months passed before I asked her out on a date” (despite the “tireless prodding” of friends). But they did see each other a few times and discovered “many passions we had in common,” such as classical music (she on violin and piano, he on viola and piano), amateur physics, and Star Trek.
In 1999, they both enrolled at the University of Melbourne, seeking science and engineering degrees. Despite some intervals apart for internships and two exchanges, their bond “only grew stronger.” By 2003, they were applying to doctoral programs in the U.S., and in August of 2004 — having been accepted by Berkeley’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences department — they were here in town and “awestruck” by this sun-drenched place where people sat in cafes doing academic work, “looked so happy and relaxed,” and spoke so many different languages. In six years, far from awe, they reached the state of “feeling very comfortable in knocking on any professor’s door to talk about research.” For the technically-minded, Juliet’s research has centered on pattern matching for advanced lithographic technologies, while Ben’s has been in machine learning, statistics, and security (including ways of enhancing privacy).
Of late, they’ve been on the job market, with Ben’s search being somewhat more intense than Juliet’s for a very down-to-earth reason: they weren’t alone in crossing that Greek Theatre stage. Along for the ride was a new Rubinstein, due in September. (You couldn’t tell Juliet was pregnant in her academic gown, but in that garb the whole class could have been pregnant and no one would have known.)
Maybe we shouldn’t be remotely surprised — after all, this is Berkeley, where even Arnold Schwartzenegger got pregnant.
Last-minute employment update: Ben has landed a job a job at Microsoft Research in Mountain View, where he’ll be starting in late June.
(The Rubinsteins’ proposal-playlet isn’t the first time a Berkeley engineering swain has made the rest of us mere guys look like plodding louts. In the same season in 2004, also in the Greek Theatre, computer science student Yen-Yang “Mike” Chen strode with other engineering graduates receiving their Ph.D.s, suddenly went down on one knee, and held up a previously-invisible sign he had stashed under his academic gown. It implored, for all the world to see, “MARRY ME, Jackey!!” His intended, an engineering alumna of the Class of 2001 named Ling-Chih “Jackey” Wang, — after a long suspenseful pause — came out of the audience and tearfully said yes.)