When Maggie Kerper Grissom went off to college, she knew she wanted to pursue a career in dentistry. She freely admits to being influenced by her father, Dr. Tim Kerper, an Anniston endodontist, but she also appreciated the way the field integrates art with science.
After graduating as salutatorian at Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic School, she set her cap for her father’s alma mater — Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. She held fond memories of visiting the prestigious university when she was a kid, traveling there for football games and family events. “I couldn’t wait to start a new journey far from home,” she said. “I wouldn’t let even the cold weather deter me.”
Unfortunately, her dream was shattered when she was denied acceptance to the university. Feeling shaken by the rejection, her gut reaction was to look for a school as far away from Notre Dame as she could get. Instead, she enrolled at St Mary’s College, which is located across the street from her beloved Fighting Irish. The decision to attend the all-girls college still kept things in the family, since Maggie’s mother, Tracie Kerper, is an alumna of St. Mary’s.
The following year, Maggie took another shot at admission to Notre Dame. Being denied on her first attempt was “quite the reality check,” she said. “But I learned a lot, academically and about myself on all levels, during my freshman year at St. Mary’s.”
Her perseverance paid off when she was accepted to Notre Dame as a sophomore and went on to receive a degree in biological sciences. That’s when she returned to Alabama to attend UAB School of Dentistry.
At a preview day for incoming students, she met Austyn Grissom, a rising second-year dental student and vice-president of his class. “We chatted for a while that day, but our paths didn’t cross again for three months,” Maggie remembers.
It wasn’t long before the couple became a couple.
“I started dental school with a very focused mindset and wasn’t looking for a relationship,” Maggie said. “Dental school is really tough, and having someone by my side that understands exactly what I’m going through has kept me sane.”
Austyn, who is the son of Ken and Julia Grissom, was born and raised in Piedmont, where he attended Piedmont High School and graduated as historian of his class.
He went on to attend Auburn University, receiving a degree in biomedical sciences before heading off to dental school, where he met Maggie.
Right off the bat, Austyn was charmed by Maggie’s confidence. “I could not believe that she drove herself, alone, to and from Indiana for school,” he said. He was also impressed with her knowledge of sports. “She could carry on a conversation about any sport, college or professional,” he said.
He considers Maggie to be his best friend and “my favorite part of every day,” he said. “She inspires me to be the best person that I can be.”
Maggie is touched by Austyn’s thoughtfulness and generosity. “He remembers anniversaries, surprises me with flowers and always makes me laugh,” she said.
During her years at Notre Dame, far from her home in Alabama, Maggie thought she just might cross paths with Mr. Right. “Little did I know he was down here, in my own backyard, all along,” she said.
Maggie and Austyn were married last month, on Christmas Eve Eve, in a lovely afternoon ceremony at Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Golden Springs. After a romantic honeymoon to Costa Rica, they are heading back to the classroom to finish their degrees.
Austyn graduates in June and will work as a general dentist, while Maggie will finish one year later. Both have yet to decide if they’ll return to school and pursue a dental specialty. “It’s hard to say where we’ll be in 10 years,” Maggie said. “But as long as we have each other, everything will be perfect.”
Donna Barton’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at email@example.com.