KOKOMO, Ind. — When former kindergarten classmates Justice Wilburn and Tatum Manton reconnected as Indiana University Kokomo students, it just seemed meant to be.
They married in June 2020, and Tuesday (May 11) graduated together, ready to begin their new life in Indianapolis.
It’s a love story that almost wasn’t.
“It wasn’t an instant thing,” Wilburn said. “It really took some work, and a lot of honesty to get to a point we were both pretty certain about our relationship. We were really honest about what we want out of life.”
After kindergarten they went to separate elementary schools, and even though both attended Kokomo High School, each only vaguely remembers seeing the other in the halls between classes. Manton mostly focused on band and AP classes, while Wilburn was involved with robotics.
“I was too much of a nerd for her,” Wilburn joked.
Their paths diverged again after high school, with Manton enrolling at IU Kokomo and Wilburn heading to an out-of-state school. After his first semester away, he began to rethink his major, and considered transferring to IU Kokomo. On a visit, he went hiking with friends involved in the CCO, the campus Christian student ministry, and they started talking.
“We hung out quite a few times, and decided we had similar goals with what we wanted to do with our futures,” Manton said. “We enjoyed each other’s company and we started dating.”
When their sophomore year began, he had transferred and changed his major from computer science to biological and physical sciences, in the earth sciences and sustainability track, while Manton began classes in the School of Nursing.
Both continued participating in campus ministries, with Manton serving as president of the Nurses Bible Fellowship, while Wilburn was president of CCO.
“Meeting through this group allowed us to grow not only in relationship with others, but with each other and God,” Manton said. “We wouldn’t have met again if we hadn’t gone to CCO.”
“Having that peer support is really nice,” Wilburn added. “It’s a group of people you know are looking for the same information you are. It’s a community that allows you to ask questions, and to be OK with not always understanding things. You learn a lot.”
After a year, they got engaged, and decided their wedding would be about another year later, between their junior and senior years, to give Manton time to plan a small, intimate wedding.
“We already knew we wanted to be married, so we didn’t see the point in waiting another year until graduation,” she said. “We waited a lot longer than Justice wanted to. I was the one who wanted the year.”
They were married June 27, 2020, during a small window of time COVID-19 restrictions were relaxed, allowing them to have their family and friends in attendance.
After graduation, the couple is moving to Indianapolis, where Manton has started a nurse residency program at St. Vincent Ascension Hospital. Wilburn plans to continue his job working for the U.S. Geological Survey.
Being students together gave them to chance to support each other.
“We’re pretty independent about school work,” Manton said. “We will push each other to get out of the house to do homework, to go to a coffee shop and actually get work done. We’re there for each other.”