For decades, the cement wall at the intersection of West and Center streets has served as a public billboard of sorts, where city residents and students from SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College take turns advertising events and sharing messages by painting words across the chipping, colorful surface.
On Saturday, SUNY Oneonta alumnus Ryan Assini returned to the City of the Hills and made the most of the makeshift message board by using it to ask his girlfriend of four years, alumna Briela Tollisen, to marry him.
Briela, who works as a graphic designer in Albany, and Ryan, who’s in graduate school at the University of New Haven, returned to Oneonta for the weekend to celebrate their four-year anniversary and Briela’s birthday. But Ryan had several surprises up his sleeve.
An Oneonta Love
Ryan and Briela, both 24 years old, met in 2017 at SUNY Oneonta during their sophomore year. Ryan, a biology major, and Briela, a fine arts and communication studies major, had mutual friends and grew close after taking a class together, Microeconomics. They graduated in 2019.
The couple’s first date was to a “prom” hosted by the Ultimate Frisbee intramural team, of which Ryan served as captain. Briela played for the college’s women’s lacrosse team, and they often took turns attending each other’s games.
“We always hung out in the dining halls a lot and in the library and did homework together,” Briela recalled. “In the winter, we would go sledding together down the hill that now has the Welcome Center. One of the first times we hung out, we made a snowman together behind Sherman Hall, where I lived. We eventually both became Orientation Leaders because we just loved Oneonta so much and wanted to spread that love to incoming freshmen.”
For Real This Time
Believe it or not, Saturday actually marked the second time Ryan “proposed” to Briela using the wall.
During their senior year, the couple pulled a prank on Ryan’s Ultimate Frisbee teammates by painting the wall and pretending to get engaged. This time, as Ryan’s message on Saturday explained, was no joke: “BRIELA, MARRY ME? (FOR REAL THIS TIME)”
This time around, Ryan’s teammates and dear friends, who still live in town, were in on the secret, painting the wall for Ryan so that he could take Briela to dinner at their favorite restaurant, Toscana, on Friday night and distract her Saturday with breakfast at Latte Lounge and a trip to a Cooperstown winery.
The plan was almost foiled when Briela and Ryan ran into these friends at Walmart with a shopping cart full of spray paint.
“They were very abrupt and didn’t seem too excited to see us and I couldn’t figure out why,” Briela recalled, giggling. “Now it all makes sense.”
She Said ‘Yes’
The final step in the plan was for Ryan to tell Briela that they had an early dinner reservation at The Autumn Café at 4 p.m. Instead, he brought her to the intersection of West and Center streets, where he had hidden the engagement ring under a yield sign, and popped the question.
“Our friends were all there waiting and recording,” Ryan said. “And she said yes. It was perfect.”
Because of COVID-19, the couple does not have a definitive wedding date yet, but they hope to get married somewhere near Oneonta, surrounded by their college friends.