This is a tale of two friends, one love story, and the PhD. Donald and Arrianna met in 2013 at the University of Chicago discussing Political Theory. Theirs is a beautiful history and a happy future. Stylish Academic caught up with this lovely couple, and they shared their story with us + pictures from their big day.

Donald and Arrianna Planey

Donald and Arrianna Planey

Do tell me the story of how you met…

Donald – I first saw Arrianna at our program’s math boot camp, the summer of 2013. It was at one of those gigantic lecture halls that can fit half the campus student body. I didn’t know her name at the time, but I spotted a cute girl in a red getup sitting towards the front. When the students started forming their own study groups, I shared one with her. I remember watching her nibble on sushi over our problem sets. We started talking to each other in our Political Theory seminar, but mainly through the class’s message board. She asked for someone to explain Heidegger to her, and I gave it a shot. I think that was the first time I had a conversation with her, but we started talking more one-on-one with one another and getting flirty at dinner parties our friends would throw.

Donald and Arrianna Planey

Donald and Arrianna Planey

Arrianna – I remember meeting Donald when we sat next to each other in a Political Theory seminar. I remember watching him doodle on the margins of his notebook. We eventually became friends through casual, shared dinners with others in our cohort. One time, it was my turn to cook, and he was the only one who came. So we just ate our chicken and salad, and sipped a Merlot. Unwinding with someone can really bring you closer. Not long afterward, he expressed interest in me, and we started dating. After about a year of dating, we got engaged on the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier (in Chicago), and now, a year later, we are married.

Planning the wedding…what was your experience like?

Donald Planey - Groom

Donald Planey – Groom

Donald – We had a few lucky breaks from the start. We managed to land a fantastic venue within a week of our engagement. There’s a small, red-brick estate on a forest preserve in my hometown of Glenview. It’s always meant a lot to me- it was where I learned about the local ecology of the Chicagoland area, and was a place I could always find peace and joy. More importantly, Arri loved it the first time I gave her a tour (she’s from California, so I was initially nervous about finding an outdoor venue in Illinois that could compare). After that, we were matching the theme, colors, and catering to the environment- morning wedding, brunch reception, orchids for decoration, rustic theme, green + purple + gold, etc. Our photographer Stephanie Serine was also a great fit, as well as our caterer, Hel’s Kitchen.

I love how he calls her Arri 🙂

Donald and Arrianna Planey

Gorgeous Bride, Arrianna Planey & the Rev.

Arrianna – I didn’t want a wedding, but Donald talked me into it. I saw how important it was for him, so we went forward with the wedding planning. Honestly, he handled most correspondences and payments to the vendors, while I was more active in selecting the wedding colors, themes, décor, invitations, and cake flavors (vanilla cake with lemon and raspberry filling and buttercream icing). (His mother- a former chef- made the cake!). What made wedding planning less stressful was keeping a small circle in regard to planning and input.

...cutting the cake

…cutting the cake

It sounds crass, but I only really accepted input from people who were willing to back up their ideas with actual support. Opinions are like bellybuttons, y’know? Some people are more than willing to offer their opinions- even when you didn’t ask them 🙂 (I know what you mean!)

Donald and Arrianna Planey 1

Bride and the bridesmaids

What can a soon-to-be bride or groom take away from your wedding experience?

Donald – A lot of people are going to tell you what a wedding “needs” or how it’s supposed to be done. It’s your day, and weddings can be incredibly different from one another. Do what you want to do, wear what you want to wear, and vet & compare every vendor! Everyone’s there to see you be happy, so be happy with your partner, family, and friends!

Wedding vows

The Planeys exchanging vows

Arrianna – I am a very frugal person, and I initially shied away from having a wedding because I thought it might be extravagant. Now that our wedding has come and gone, I’ll say that a wedding can be well worth it if it is affordable and meaningful. We kept it simple and focused on what we envisioned for the day- the exchange of marriage vows before a community of family, friends, and peers. It’s really a big celebration of community.

Let’s move over to the PhD… What’s inspired the decision for you both to pursue a PhD this September?

Donald – I’ve known I would pursue a PhD since I graduated college, but the question of “which” PhD has vexed me again and again. I started out in Philosophy in college, moved into Political Theory while at the University of Chicago, but decided that these fields didn’t work for me, and that kinds of research that Geographers, especially Urban Geographers, were doing was more in line with the kinds of ethical challenges I wanted to engage with: How to live in a more sustainable, egalitarian, and democratic world.

Arrianna – After finishing my MA degree, I landed in a job that didn’t even require the education I was working to pay for. Being underpaid and overworked is great motivation for seeking out opportunity. Donald’s mother, who is a Speech Language Pathologist, suggested that I consider applying to Audiology programs. Her encouragement (such as lending me textbooks for self study), plus the opportunity to shadow an Audiologist with hearing and vision loss made it easier for me to see myself as an Audiologist.

Now, deciding where to apply got complicated. We are currently located in Chicago, Illinois, and Donald was applying to Geography PhD programs at the same time. We had to negotiate whether we’d be okay with possibly spending the first 5 years of our marriage long-distance while we pursued our studies. Fortunately, the one school that overlapped for us- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign- worked for both of us. To be honest, it is a great relief knowing that we’ll be pursuing our doctorate degrees while sharing a life and home.

What’s your proposed research about?

Donald – I’m interested in movements and urban social projects which try to harmonize ecological sustainability with social justice. This is a pretty broad tent which includes agriculture, education, and urban planning. I’m interested in helping to determine which types of projects along these lines work, or which ones are fluff (or perhaps even detrimental to vulnerable urban populations). There’s a phrase Nietzsche used- “testing everything with a hammer.” I like to think that’s my attitude!

Arrianna – I will be generally studying for the practice of Audiology, but my capstone project will likely look at trauma-informed care, especially since a greater share of hearing loss relates to trauma of some sort- among both civilian and veteran populations. This is deeply meaningful to me because I live with hearing loss myself.

What expectations do you both have for the PhD journey…?

Donald – I look forward to having a more reasonable course schedule. Completing a 1-year MA is tough. Worth it, but tough. Now, I’m not expecting a PhD to be easy or lax by any means, especially since it’s a much bigger project, but more flexibility and time to work on a good, proper project will be a nice change.

Arrianna – I look forward to the slower pace of life in Urbana-Champaign, and just making a home with Donald. It’ll also be nice to share the experience of graduate school again. Since going through a MA program drew us closer together, I think we are more than prepared for this next step.

I also think that my clinical rotations will be more satisfying and engaging than the work I am doing now. It’ll root me and give me a greater sense of purpose.

Donald and Arrianna Planey

Beautiful Bride, Arrianna

Donald and Arrianna Planey

Happy married Life!

I wish you a happy married life Arrianna and Donald – a big hug from Stylish Academic.


Photo credit: Stephanie SeRine Photography