He said "I Will"
Photography by Beowulf Sheehan/Getty Images
It was the Fall of 1996. Kevin Baum, ’06, and Alyson Eberhardt were sailing around the world as part of the shipboard study abroad program, Semester at Sea. He attended Bates College in Maine. She was a student at Drew University in New Jersey. They met for the first time aboard this vessel—just two of the hundreds of undergraduates from colleges and universities across the U.S. experiencing this unique oceanic classroom together.
And, together, they visited ports of call from Shanghai, to Istanbul, to Casablanca. An exhilarating academic and cultural experience for all on board, the voyage would carry a particularly special significance for Kevin and Alyson.
For it was there that they fell in love.
John M. Burkoff, Pitt Professor of Law, was Semester at Sea’s Academic Dean for the Fall ’96 Voyage. He got to know the couple well. Having already known Kevin as a boyhood friend of his own son and later having had him as a student at Pitt Law after the Semester at Sea experience, Kevin and Alyson became part of Professor Burkoff’s “extended family” in the years to follow.
So it came as no surprise to John Burkoff, when, 10 years later, Kevin and Alyson decided to marry.
But no one was more surprised than John Burkoff when they asked him to marry them.
“I was initially shocked. I was certainly more qualified to speak on the Fourth Amendment than I was to perform a wedding ceremony. But, ultimately, I was touched that they would ask me and quite honored. I loved these two people who I had now known for quite some time, and felt that the honor would be all mine.”
So when Kevin and Alyson asked him to help them say “I do,” Professor Burkoff said, “I will.”
He set about doing what any conscientious professor would do—he researched the subject. And shortly thereafter, Professor Burkoff became an ordained minister—
of the online variety.
Burkoff, a nationally recognized expert on legal ethics, has published 19 books and more than 60 articles in the areas of criminal justice, human rights, as well as legal ethics. He is involved with legal education around the world and has worked for U.S. embassies in Burundi, Iceland and Kenya on human rights projects. He is the past chairperson of the Criminal Justice Section of the Association of American Law Schools, was elected to membership in the American Law Institute and was Chair of the American Bar Association Task Force that revised the professional standards for criminal trial judges.
And now, at the request of a former student and good friend, he can claim the title of “The Very Esteemed” John Burkoff—as a newly ordained minister of the Church of Spiritual Humanism, able to perform, as his certificate decrees, “all duties of the clergy, including marriage, invocation, and all manner of religious ceremonies.”
“So I spent $89.99 and got ordained online,” says Burkoff. “I would not have agreed to perform the ceremony unless it would be binding. I sent my request and new license to the state of New Hampshire (where they were to be married), and received prompt notification and certification that the nuptials would, indeed, be permissible and binding in the state of New Hampshire.”
“Professor Burkoff went for the deluxe ministerial package,” laughs Kevin Baum. “Yes, for $89.99, he not only became an ordained minister, he received the handbook, the CD-ROM, and—the parking pass,” Kevin says tongue-in-cheek. “You see, I really think he did this for the parking pass—the ability to park anywhere at any time.
“Seriously, we really couldn’t think of anyone else we would rather have to perform the ceremony. He knew Alyson and me throughout our entire relationship and we knew he would bring a familiarity and a warmth that just could not be replicated by anyone else.”
And so, in September of 2006, The Very Esteemed John Burkoff married Kevin and Alyson in the intimate setting of a quaint, rustic inn nestled in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.
“One of the great rewards of being a law professor is that you can become good, close friends with many of the students you have taught. To be such an integral part of their lives is as terrific as it is humbling.
“And so I didn’t have to think too much about accepting this request. I couldn’t think of anything I would have more fun doing—except teaching. And so I said ‘I will.’”