images_sizedimage_137230011

Gabriel and Marianne Alexandrou were high-school sweethearts, then after 20 years of being apart they found each other and went back to college to get their undergraduate degrees at Plattsburgh State. In the background is their daughter, Denise.

PLATTSBURGH -- The Internet brought high-school sweethearts together after a 20-year hiatus.

Gabriel and Marianne Alexandrou, now married, will receive their bachelor's degrees in communication disorders from Plattsburgh State. But it wasn't easy, as the couple sacrificed any quality time together, working full time while carrying full college loads.

"We got to be known as the Alexandrous, because we were always together," said Gabriel.

The pair met in November 1977, started dating in March of that next year and went their separate ways in 1980 when Marianne's father moved to Long Island.

"I was devastated and married the first idiot who came long," she said.

Then, in February 2004, Marianne, divorced and a parent, surfed the Internet to find the man she had never forgotten about. She wrote Lexington High School 20th anniversary in the subject in an attempt to ensure Gabriel wouldn't delete the message.

Still, he questioned whether the e-mail was from her, though when he got a strong reaction when asking if she was still a free spirit, he knew it was Marianne.

They reunited on March 19, 2004. Gabriel knew he was about to lose his job in tech support for the Department of Transportation due to a contract expiring and considered going back to college, only to find out Marianne shared his thoughts.

They both found they had a passion for speech language pathology and began looking for a college to apply to, choosing Plattsburgh State after one visit to the area.

They married exactly two years after reuniting and were full-time college students in spring 2006.

The couple drove from Long Island to Plattsburgh the day before Thanksgiving during a snowstorm.

They were slightly nervous about the age difference between themselves and the students they'd share a classroom with but found they were immediately accepted.

Starting as juniors, they took the same classes at the same time, sharing books to cut down on costs.

"We were a couple, so it was a nice support system," Gabriel, 47, said. "But it could be tough if you needed space. We had some rough times."

Specifically, they took more than a full load and worked 40-plus hours weekly.

Suddenly, their days consisted of classes, work, homework, eating and sleeping. During the winter they'd start a fire in the fireplace of the home they bought in West Plattsburgh only to fall asleep from the heat while studying.

"We had to make sacrifices, but the age thing does make a difference, especially when you have goals in mind," Gabriel said. "We weren't partying with everybody else."

He doesn't recall doing exceptionally well his first stint in college, but said competing with Marianne helped them both excel academically this time around.

But the lack of money was a constant reminder their lives had changed, at least temporarily. Gabriel had been successful in his career and Marianne, before going back to school, owned a lucrative property-management business on Long Island.

"The money had been great, but it was a good time to make a change," said the 46-year-old.

"There were times when we were frustrated, but never enough to say let's call it a day," Gabriel added.

That fact stood out glaringly as they struggled to manage two car payments, a mortgage and other bills.

And while they were together all hours of the day and night, there was little room for quality time.

Today, they both earn their bachelor's degrees in communication disorders and start the speech language pathology graduate program at Plattsburgh State in the fall.

"It has been an interesting college experience," Marianne said.

sbartlett@pressrepublican.com

Recommended for you