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Mike Chen Mike Chen, Ph.D. in Computer Science '04, popped the question on stage. (Peg Skorpinski photo)

College of Engineering Commencement features a winning proposal

– Yen-Yang "Mike" Chen should have been kicking back and relaxing on the night before Commencement. After all, at 8:30 a.m. on May 22, following seven years' hard work, he would walk across the Greek Theatre's stage to receive his doctorate in computer science from UC Berkeley's College of Engineering.


Mike receives the answer he was hoping for from Jackey. (Peg Skorpinski photos)
 

Instead, at 11 p.m., Mike and his brother were madly racing around a Kinko's copy store trying to make a banner that he could hold up on stage. Mike had decided that he wanted to get more than his diploma the next day - he wanted to get engaged to his sweetheart of four years, Ling-Chih "Jackey" Wang.

"I'd had the idea to propose for a couple of months, but I was worried about finding a job and what would happen after graduation," Mike explains a few days later. "Then I started thinking about all the support Jackey had given me throughout the Ph.D., and I wanted to show how much I love and appreciate her by sharing that day's honors with her. So I decided to go for it."

Told that a banner would take two days to print, Mike grabbed some colored file folders and improvised a simple sign. The next day, as he crossed the stage, he kneeled and held it up for the entire Greek Theatre audience to see: "MARRY ME Jackey!!!" He was rewarded with immediate applause, but no sign of the most important audience member.

"I was so nervous. I was looking everywhere for her," recalls Mike. "Then I saw her appear at the gate at the end of the stage." Giving him a big, tearful hug, she ended the suspense. Jackey said yes.

Mike was "80 percent" certain that Jackey would accept the proposal, but "there's always that 20 percent to scare you to death."

Jackey Wang
Mike Chen, an avid photographer, likes to take portraits of his "best friend," Jackey Wang. (Mike Chen photo)  

Both Mike and Jackey were born in Taiwan and met while she was a UC Berkeley undergraduate majoring in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research. After graduating in 2001 (and winning the Christie Award for Excellence in Creative Innovation), Jackey went to work for a San Jose chip design company. "I was always in Soda Hall, she was always next door in Etcheverry, and we just ended up spending a lot of time together," says Mike. "She's my best friend." Indeed, friends and family in the audience were just as surprised as Jackey to see Mike's sign: the couple had always described their relationship in terms of their friendship - rarely referring to each other as "boyfriend" or "girlfriend." His brother was the only one to whom he confided his plan.

At the moment, there's no engagement ring - "I didn't have time!" sputters Mike - and no wedding date, as Mike left immediately after graduation for a weeklong trip to the Grand Canyon with his parents.

"I'm just so happy she said yes. We can figure the rest out later," he says with a sigh of relief.