When Damien and Krystal McCants entered their wedding reception to "Enter Sandman," the other Hokies in the chapel knew what to do: they just started jumping.
At the May 2008 reception, the newly married couple cut a cake embellished with a sugary Virginia Tech athletic logo, drank from embossed Virginia Tech champagne flutes, and danced in a room filled with maroon and white decor.
Their wedding was in many ways homage to the place where they met, fell in love, got engaged (specifically, in the gazebo by the Duck Pond), and, they say, the place they became the people they are today.
Now, 15 years since their undergraduate years at Virginia Tech, it’s a place they return to visit every year without fail. As young professionals living and working in Northern Virginia, the pair are still committed to living in service to the university they call home by donating and joining advisory boards.
“For me, Virginia Tech is a huge part of who I am,” Krystal said. “It’s such a huge part of my life that I can't just forget because, you know, without Virginia Tech, obviously I wouldn’t have gotten, I don’t think, the same caliber of education.”
Krystal said she felt Virginia Tech not only shaped her during four formative years of her life, it now continues to shape the way she is viewed professionally, with the name recognition of the university opening doors for her in the D.C. area.
Damien agreed. What’s more, the couple has a circle of close alumni friends in Northern Virginia who they regularly spend time with and even vacation with.
In giving back to the university that they feel has influenced every part of their lives, the couple has an opportunity “to be a part of the university’s growth and direction,” Damien said.
While at Virginia Tech, Krystal studied accounting and information systems in the Pamplin College of Business. Damien studied mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering.
Initially, Krystal came into college looking to study in a rigorous program, but wasn’t sure of the field she wanted to go into. She opted for engineering and joined the ASPIRE program, sponsored by the Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity (CEED) in the College of Engineering, but opted for accounting after learning more about her own career aspirations and interests.
Damien, who is a year older and spent five years at Virginia Tech due to a co-op his sophomore year at Honeywell, had also joined CEED.
Kenan Davis, a mutual friend of the pair who was also in CEED, introduced Damien and Krystal at an on-campus cookout in front of Dietrick Hall. The next year, the two began dating. A few years later, Davis was a groomsman at their wedding.
Now the pair are in the next stage of their lives together, advancing in their careers and planning their 10-year-anniversary cruise to the Caribbean.
Recently, Krystal was named a top tax accountant in the D.C. area by Washingtonian Magazine’s Financial Services section. Damien, who also earned his MBA from Virginia Tech’s Falls Church campus, does project management in the construction industry, working for Mortenson Construction.
To this day, they keep in close contact with Bev Watford, director of CEED and associate dean of academic affairs. The McCants both praised Watford’s approach to mentoring students.
“She’s very much a mother figure,” Damien said.
“She’s like a mom on campus, but not like a squishy, warm, and fuzzy [mom], like a make sure you’re getting your work done, make sure you have all the resources you need [kind of mom],” Krystal said. “Her door was always open.”
Fifteen years since graduating, the relationship is much different, Damien says.
“It’s much less of a tough love, kind of like it was in undergrad, more of just, you can bounce ideas off her and get advice, and she helped me get introduced to the mechanical engineering department head to get on the mechanical engineering advisory board that I currently serve,” Damien said.
For Damien, who had to pay his way through school, working part-time and earning scholarships while pursuing a rigorous mechanical engineering degree, having a community of minority student peers fostered by Watford’s stern, but loving, leadership helped him with the sense of culture shock he experienced on top of the financial stressors.
For Krystal, who hails from Walkersville, Maryland, a small town of about 6,000, coming to the bustling Virginia Tech campus could have been overwhelming had the program not helped her find a close-knit circle of friends.
They say CEED’s ASPIRE program, which is focused mainly on bringing underrepresented students to campus the summer before their freshman year, helped them acclimate to Virginia Tech, gave them a community to be a part of, and set them up for a successful undergraduate experience.
Their experience is part of the reason they continue to be advocates for and to minority students pursuing higher education.
When Watford first reached out to Damien to ask him to join the CEED advisory board, it was an easy "yes."
“There’s something very inspiring about Dr. Watford, being a female and being African-American, that she’s achieved what she’s achieved. It’s an honor to be in her inner circle,” Krystal said. “When she says, ‘I need you,’ you just say, ‘okay.’”
After a term on Watford’s board, Damien was recruited to serve on the Department of Mechanical Engineering Advisory Board. With the help of a Pamplin College of Business development officer, Krystal is also looking into finding her fit with Virginia Tech.
Even as busy as the pair are in their day jobs, they aren’t worried about their future obligations at Virginia Tech on behalf of the College of Engineering and the Pamplin College of Business not overlapping. In fact, they almost hope the volunteer opportunities they take on at the university give them an excuse to come back to campus more often.
It’ll only serve to further cement their status in their friend group as the Hokie couple. It’s a reputation they welcome, especially as they look to inspire others to give back to the university.
“Take a second to remember what Virginia Tech did as a part of your life,” Krystal said of the couple’s advice to fellow Hokie alumni. “A lot of people probably get their education and go on about their life and forget that without that eduation you wouldn’t have all the things that you have. We wouldn't be where we are without that stepping stone.”
Written by Erica Corder