If you’re already thinking about what you might get your sweetheart for Valentine’s Day this year, consider the story of Sean Gehrke and his wife Colleen McKinney.
Sean Gehrke and wife Colleen McKinney.
Sean wanted to surprise Colleen for her birthday last September and reached out to SMC Community Education to ask for a summer schedule of classes, whose cover is graced with a photo she had taken and entered into the annual Student Photo Contest. The image did not win the contest but Alice Meyering, SMC Program Coordinator of Community & Contract Education, liked it so much she used it for the summer catalog cover. Sean had it framed and presented to her for her birthday.
“I was so surprised, since it was not something I was expecting at all. He kept the secret very well!” Colleen said. “I thought it was a sweet gesture and very thoughtful. I know how hard it can be to come up with meaningful gifts.”
Sean and Colleen, currently Seattle residents, lived in Los Angeles from 2011 to 2015. She was getting a master’s in public policy at USC and he was working on his doctorate in education, also at USC. He is the director of the Office of Education Assessment at the University of Washington and she works for the nonprofit Center for Good Food Purchasing. They have a 1-year-old daughter Cora.
Colleen said a few years ago she bought a DSLR camera and enrolled in Larry Jones’ photography class at SMC Community Ed to start learning more about the technical aspects of composition.
“I loved practicing what I was learning,” she said, “as I explored the wide variety of landscapes around Los Angeles, from Joshua Tree to the poppies in Lancaster to Malibu and the urban scenes around central L.A. where I lived and worked for four years.”
Beyond being a romantic gift, fitting for Valentine’s Day, what else did it demonstrate?
“Since I started teaching myself photography,” Colleen said, “Sean has been my biggest supporter and through this gift I could tell he was proud that someone else was excited about one of my photographs too.”