On 20 November each year, ULB and VUB students commemorate Pierre-Théodore Verhaegen, the founder of a free and scientific education. Since the first commemoration in 1888, St V has turned from a spontaneous protest by a few hundred students against the ULB administration into a major event attended by thousands every year. Among them are Julie Coonen and her husband, Gian Schraepen. They look forward to this day every year.
Julie and Gian were both members of the Literature and Philosophy Circle in the 2012-2013 academic year. Gian studied history and Julie communication. They often studied with fellow students during revision periods. That was where they grew closer. In the second semester, they became a couple, and in the summer of 2022 they got married.
One of the most fun days of the year
“Since we were in the same student association, we also went to St V together,” says Julie. “It was fantastic, St V is one of the most fun days of the year for a VUB student. Unfortunately, I can’t go this year and that hurts a bit, especially because as a couple we haven’t missed a single edition yet. As the day of St V approaches, there are lots of messages between friends arranging to meet up. A large chunk of our social network consists of former VUB students.” “This year, I’m only participating during the day and will miss the evening events,” says Gian. “I joined an association for former students so we still stay connected to VUB. For us, St V is an ideal opportunity to see friends from the past and catch up.”
“Julie is my only stripe”
Gian works as a sales manager, not necessarily an obvious step after studying History. “Still, the subject fascinated me immensely; it shaped me into who I am today. It gave me values from the VUB such as critical thinking and liberalism, which, among other things, ensured that I don’t just take everything for granted. Why history? I’m interested in why things happened, why current things happen. It perhaps wasn’t the most useful course for me for the job market, which is why I then studied business administration and applied economics at the VUB.”
Julie and Gian married on a beautiful summer day in 2022.
At VUB and not in Ghent or Leuven
Julie works in a corporate marketing and communications department. She chose to study communication after attending the open class days at the VUB. “In the same week I also attended them at KU Leuven, but I preferred VUB for their approach. I also liked the fact that the campus is self-contained and not scattered around the city like in Ghent and Leuven. It makes you say as a student that you study at the VUB and not in Ghent or Leuven. That’s an important nuance. At VUB, for me, the most beautiful friendships have developed and, in our case, the most beautiful relationship. In fact, we have many friends who also met their partner at VUB.”
Sense of belonging
“The VUB mindset and mentality is imparted and absorbed and then automatically sort of sought in your partner,” Gian explains. “At our wedding, all four witnesses were VUB graduates. The fact that we have so many VUB students among our friends is probably because the VUB is a relatively small university, but mainly because student life there is so close-knit. Each faculty student association has its own room and they’re all next to each other. That means it’s easy to see people. A lot of events are organised as well: you get to know a lot of people in a short time. You get an unspoken sense of belonging.”
That sense of belonging is nicely illustrated by the profile picture on Gian’s Facebook page. It’s a photo from Le Soir showing the couple kissing. In a nod to the “stripe” tradition – where students get a stripe on their lab coats for every person they kiss at St V – Gian says that Julie is his only stripe.