Osman Malik (B.S.’15/B) and Faria Ahmed (B.S.’15/H&S) celebrate their engagement on VCU’s Compass outside the James Branch Cabell Library. Photo by Jay Paul (B.G.S.’85/H&S; M.F.A.’93/A)
By Julie Young
His stomach was in knots, and he stumbled over the words he had so carefully rehearsed. But at 2:50 p.m. April 21, with an assist from James Branch Cabell Library’s 400-foot digital screen, Osman Malik (B.S.’15/B) pulled off a surprise proposal to his longtime girlfriend, Faria Ahmed (B.S.’15/H&S), on the Virginia Commonwealth University Compass.
The big ask incorporated more than 50 covertly invited friends and relatives, professional and amateur photographers, a shiny new ring — and the screen flashing their photo and the text, “Will you …”
She will, sometime in 2019.
VCU holds special memories for the couple. They met in 2011 during Welcome Week and have been together since. The proposal had to happen on the Monroe Park Campus, Malik says.
“What better place than the place that started it all?” says Malik, a senior associate at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Tysons Corner, Virginia, where his fiancée works for MicroStrategy.
It took eight months of planning for Malik to hatch his plan, which involved accomplices from both families, their circle of friends and Sue Robinson, VCU Libraries’ communications and public relations director. VCU Libraries, which made a one-time exception to its guidelines and allowed him to use the Cabell screen, vowing it would stray from academics and art images into romance just this once.
He knew it would be easy to lure Ahmed to Richmond without arousing suspicion. What’s more romantic than a springtime visit to campus? The couple left Northern Virginia at 8:30 a.m. that Saturday. Once in Richmond, they hit their favorite restaurant, Thai Top Ten, for lunch, but Malik could only force down a couple bites.
“Why aren’t you eating?” Ahmed asked.
“Probably like a stomachache or something,” he replied.
He checked his phone repeatedly for texts from his “logistics team” at the library. After lunch, Malik suggested they sit outside the dining center, not far from where they sipped coffee and decided to be an official couple on Jan. 26, 2012. He got the text that the screen was ready and they walked toward the library.
Ahmed looked up quizzically at the photo of herself and Malik on the big screen. “And then I just started professing my love to her,” he says. “But at that moment, my memory is completely blacked out. I don’t remember exactly what I said.”
Friends and family members emerged from hiding places as Malik knelt on the Compass. A favorite Indian song played from his brother’s boom box. Ahmed said yes, tears flowed, hugs ensued and cameras clicked. “It was really special,” she says.
“Looking back now, I can see subtle signs,” she says of the surprise. “My friend was really adamant about me getting my nails done and a lot of my friends were asking what I was going to wear.”
What inspired Malik to such an over-the-top gesture? “I want to spend the rest of my life with the person who has not only helped me grow, but the individual who drives me to become the best version of myself,” he says.