Every day, Sherwynn Umali ’03 and Mike Knox ‘03 make students their focus: Sherwynn as Director of Campus Organizations and Mike as Interim Director of New Student Programs. Spend just a few moments with either of them and their passion for helping students surfaces.
But people often don’t realize that they’ve been a couple for 12 years, married for nearly 6 and have a 4-year-old son, Miles. That’s because they’ve kept their relationship quiet in the workplace, even though their offices are literally next door.
They met as resident advisors in Mesa Court during their third year in 2000. After graduating with degrees in psychology & social behavior, they moved across the country and back to support each other during alternate turns at graduate school. Both eventually returned to UC Irvine to help new generations of Anteaters find their paths to individuality.
They’re so committed to their work that they haven’t honeymooned yet. But seeing them together and so clearly in love makes one think they probably haven’t missed it.
1. When did you meet your sweetheart?
We first met in spring 2000 for pass down in Mesa Court where we were both going to be RA’s for the coming academic year (Sherwynn for Puente, Mike for Ciudad). We really started getting to know each other beginning in fall 2000 and spent a lot of time together.
2. What attracted you to each other?
MK: Very early on, I remember telling some of the other guys on the Mesa staff that I was interested in Sherwynn. There was just something about her. And she always had really cool hair. [She still does!]
The list of what I find attractive about her is endless. She is absolutely beautiful, inside and out. She is one of the kindest, smartest, funniest, most genuinely caring people I have ever known. From the beginning, she made me want to be a better person because she inspired me with her own goodness and because I wanted to be worthy of her.
The answer is all of her.
SU: When I first saw Mike, I thought he was cute. And he was wearing a white T-shirt and jeans, which is my favorite outfit. I said to my friend James, “I’m going to smooch that guy by the end of the year.”
What I discovered was that Mike is genuinely caring of all people and things. I always think about what he would think and do. I can’t even kill spiders or ants now because of Mike.
And how he is with Miles, there’s no better dad in the world. Mike is the best person to model positive and good behavior.
3. How long have you been together?
Twelve years since we first started dating in 2001. On July 7, we’ll have been married six years. We got married on 7/7/7. Seven is our favorite number. We both plug in numbers that will add up to seven on the microwave, which we found out after we met.
4. How have you kept your relationship under wraps?
MK: When we first started dating, we were both RA’s and dating was unofficially discouraged.
SU: A lot of my residents had a crush on Mike. One even wanted to ask him to the spring formal and I encouraged her.
MK: Now, we don’t make a conscious effort to keep it a secret at work. We just don’t advertise it and keep everything very professional. When people find out, they’re usually surprised.
SU: Throughout our whole dating lives, we’ve worked together!
MK: We work next door to each other, but we’re not interacting that often.
SU: We drop off our kid to the Early Childhood Education Center, walk into the office, and not see each other until the end of the day to pick up our kid.
We work with so many students separately and when they find out we’re married, they can’t believe it. It blows their minds! And when they see Miles, they say, “That is AWESOME!”
5. Favorite love song?
MK: Sherwynn’s favorite love song in college was “Spend My Life with You” by Eric Benet and Tamia. I sang the chorus to her when I proposed for the third time. She said yes each time, but they weren’t perfect so I kept trying. The third was the final time.
But the first song that popped into my head was “Same Love” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. It’s about love beyond the borders of society, love that can’t be changed even if we want it to. In another time, Sherwynn and I wouldn’t have been allowed to marry because we’re an interracial couple [Sherwynn’s Filipina, Mike’s Causcasian]. Getting married was an act of privilege that many don’t have even today. It’s a song about love that perseveres, even in the face of hate. There is something incredibly beautiful about that.
SU: Miles just told me that “Same Love” is his favorite song. I asked him why (I play it at least once a day), and he said, “It’s about boys can marry boys, girls can marry girls, and boys can marry girls. Anyone can marry anyone they want.” I almost cried. The first wedding Miles heard us talking about was my brother’s. He was the first to wed his partner on a military base.
6. Best Valentine’s Day present?
MK: Valentine’s Day is also my birthday, so the two always kind of blend for me. Just getting to be with Sherwynn on Valentine’s Day is good for me.
7. What are you planning for Valentine’s Day this year?
MK: We are more about everyday love than big special occasions. Either that or I have really been blowing it for the past few years.
8. What’s the secret to keeping a good love story going?
Don’t try to be perfect and don’t expect perfection. Being in love means being able to be yourself and learning to love yourself along with another person. We are told through so much of our lives that we are not enough of any number of things (not smart enough, cool enough, attractive enough, etc.), so we try to fake it. We try to live up to a standard, when the real standard should be how true we are to who we are. Loving someone is allowing them to be their authentic self and sharing your authentic self with them.
9. How did UC Irvine play a part in your love story?
We wouldn’t have a love story without UCI. Getting involved was the key. It is what brought us together and helped both of us discover our passion for working with students and our love for each other. If we didn’t get involved on campus, we most likely never would have met.
10. Any advice for Anteaters seeking love?
Love isn’t something you find. It is something you build and rebuild together every day. People mistake love for a destination, but it is a journey. Don’t seek love. Seek good people and build love.