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Video: TODAY’s modern wedding couple tie the knot!

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updated 9/30/2010 10:51:53 AM ET 2010-09-30T14:51:53

It’s been a love affair often deferred for Melissa McMillin, 21, and Jeremy Gebhardt, 22, who have found themselves separated for six months at a time while he served his country in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So the couple’s exchange of vows in front of friends and family — and millions more viewing at home — made for perhaps the most poignant ceremony in the 11-year history of TODAY Throws a Wedding, the annual event in which viewers select a couple to be married live on television’s most popular morning show, then plan all the details for them.

Following the ceremony on Rockefeller Plaza Thursday, Jeremy celebrated the woman who waited for him while he was often 7,000 miles away, serving in the U.S. Air Force as a senior airman.

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“It’s been such a long time coming,” Jeremy told Matt Lauer, Meredith Vieira and Al Roker on the plaza. “Melissa deserved this more than anyone in the world. I’m so happy that she was able to share this with me and everyone here. It’s beautiful.”

Added his bride: “I’m so excited; it’s about time! It’s been so long.”

Long road to the aisle
Indeed, it’s been a long, winding and sometimes rocky road to the couple’s wedding day. They met in high school in their hometown of Columbia, Mo., in January 2007. Jeremy was enthralled with Melissa, but his friends told him he didn’t stand a chance with her. But after “two months of constant badgering,” Jeremy says, Melissa finally agreed to a date.

Romance blossomed, but duty also called. A military tour of Iraq kept their relationship relegated to Skype phone conferences while he served from October 2008 to April 2009. When he returned to the States, Jeremy asked for Melissa’s hand — but then he was sent to Afghanistan this past March for another six-month tour.

TODAY
Without telling Melissa, Jeremy applied via Facebook for them to be married on TODAY.

Meanwhile, Melissa, who turns 22 on Friday, kept the home fires burning while studying to be a nurse at the University of Missouri. She did not know that Jeremy threw his hat in the ring from Afghanistan, via Facebook, for them to be selected for the TODAY wedding.

They won by a landslide, and on Thursday the TODAY anchors endorsed the viewers’ choice. In toasting the couple, Al Roker raised a glass and said, “Melissa, you are studying to be a nurse, which shows you care about compassion and kindness. And Jeremy, with your service to our country, you’ve showed that you put that above all else, and for that we thank you.”

Matt Lauer added: “What better qualities could two people have as they enter into marriage? So we raise a glass and toast you on the path you’ve taken and the road that lies ahead.”

Wet outside, warm inside
Skies were rainy in New York City as the ceremony began at 8:30 a.m., but a comfortable tent sheltered the celebrants. Senior Airman Gebhardt strolled down the aisle in his Air Force best, followed by his parents, Cindy and Del.

Melissa’s mother, escorted Melissa’s brothers Chris and Brett, then made her way down the aisle, followed by the bridesmaids and groomsmen. Then Melissa, looking stunning in the Paloma Blanca wedding gown TODAY viewers selected for her, walked down the aisle on the arm of her father, Steve.

The Rev. Dr. Steve Cox greeted the couple, and drew smiles, laughs and more than a few tears when he described how the couple reached far beyond their dreams in finding each other: “When you were younger, you may have dreamed of a person who was just the right height, or had just the right hair color,” he said. “You may have hoped for a great athlete or elegant dancer. Then, you met each other, and you cast those dreams aside because they didn’t come close to matching what you already had.

Jonathan Woods/msnbc.com
Melissa McMillin, 21, and Jeremy Gebhardt, 22, married on Rockefeller Plaza.

“It’s just as well, because it is likely that whatever you have dreamed about marriage will never begin to measure up to what you are about to encounter.”

Video: TODAY’s modern wedding couple tie the knot! (on this page)

The couple then exchanged vows and rings — Jeremy had a bit of trouble slipping the Neil Lane wedding ring on Melissa’s trembling finger — and became man and wife. As a string quartet played the New York-centric Jay-Z/Alicia Keys hit “Empire State of Mind,” they took their first walk as man and wife before 85 cheering friends and family members.

Related: Your votes determine the details

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Thoroughly modern wedding
It was a thoroughly modern wedding, in keeping with this year’s TODAY Throws a Wedding theme of “Modern Love” — with TODAY partnering with Facebook to allow hopefuls to apply via the social network. The idea was a hit: In one week alone, TODAY logged 150,000 votes. Viewers not only selected the lucky couple, but also the rings, wedding dress, tux, reception venue, bridesmaids’ attire, cake and honeymoon destination.

In addition, TODAY Throws a Wedding sponsor Chevrolet gave the couple a brand-new Equinox LTX, and viewers voted to send the couple off for a luxurious seven-day vacation to a private villa in the Turks and Caicos, complete with a private butler.

Melissa beamed when she opened an envelope on the plaza telling her where she and her new hubby were headed. “We’re so excited! We can’t wait to go to a beach.”

Video: Turks and Caicos for Jeremy and Melissa (on this page)

Still, once again, it’s a dream honeymoon deferred. Jeremy is still serving in the Air Force, currently stationed in Anchorage, Alaska. They plan to wait until November to go on their honeymoon, when Melissa will be on semester break from college.

Jeremy ends his military service in the spring, around the same time Melissa graduates with her nursing degree. The couple will make their home in Columbia, where Gebhardt plans to enroll at the University of Missouri to study biology.

A reception to remember
If the wedding itself was traditional and as intimate as, well, a nationally televised wedding could be, Melissa and Jeremy’s wedding reception was the height of Manhattan glitz and glamour.

After Jeremy made a quick change out of his military dress to the Kenneth Cole tux TODAY viewers had selected for him, the couple traveled crosstown to the Hudson Terrace, one of the most elegant wedding spots in the U.S., with spectacular views of the Hudson River.

Treated like celebrities, Melissa and Jeremy had the renowned Colin Cowie as their wedding planner. Cowie, who has written five best-selling books on planning the perfect wedding, is known as the party planner to the stars, with a client list that includes Jerry Seinfeld, Oprah Winfrey, Nicole Kidman and Elton John.

Video: Inside TODAY’s modern wedding reception (on this page)

Cowie gave Melissa and Jeremy the star treatment as well. Reception cocktails included peach Bellinis, strawberry mimosas, Bloody Marys and coffee martinis.

Cowie also thought modern when it came to the wedding service. “We made small changes to update the classic wedding look and bring it into modern day, while maintaining the classic and traditional touches,” he told NBC. “We chose a timeless color palette so that 20 years down the road, you don’t look back and say, ‘What was I thinking?’ ”

Slideshow: Melissa and Jeremy’s modern wedding (on this page)

Cowie eschewed traditional round china for a more modern square design, and matched it with square-shaped glassware, which he said is all the rage. It surely wowed the bride and groom as they entered the reception to their guests’ cheers. “We couldn’t imagine anything better than this — we’re so excited!” Melissa told TODAY’s Natalie Morales.

Guest mingled with the happy couple while nibbling hors d’oeuvres, fruit salad and chocolate mousse laced with coffee, along with goat cheese and fruit tartlets.

Video: What’s on the modern wedding menu? (on this page)

After the lighting of wedding candles, Melissa and Jeremy took to the dance floor for their first dance as husband and wife. They were serenaded by rising pop-folk artist Joshua Radin, who performed his original compostion “You Got What I Need” for the couple.

Speaking with Al Roker, Radin — who recently scored a No. 1 iTunes hit with “Streetlight” — said he wrote the song in London while the woman he loved was thousands of miles away in New York City. Melissa noted the song reflected her own situation with Jeremy in a very profound way: “It was the perfect song for us.”

Video: Jeremy and Melissa’s first dance (on this page)

After the dance, Melissa said it seemed surreal to hold Jeremy in her arms and sway to the song, especially after all the couple have been through to reach their wedding day. “We were thinking about how we started from going to prom together on our first date, and now here we are, we’re married,” she said. “It was crazy; it was like a flashback and then reality.”

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After the cocktail hour in the lower section of Hudson Terrace, the new bride and groom and their guests headed upstairs for the formal wedding meal. Executive chef Thomas Besnard kept things light, serving smoked salmon with caviar, Swiss cheese and prosciutto with truffled eggs and frisee salad.

Following the brunch meal, Melissa and Jeremy cut the wedding cake, a four-tiered wonder that had a little something for everyone: alternating layers served up four different flavors, from spice cake and chocolate cake to two varieties of vanilla.

Video: A look back at the Gebhardts’  big day (on this page)

Summing up, Melissa said that she and Jeremy did their best to remain calm during a wedding and reception that had considerably more hoopla than they would have ever had otherwise, and she thanked all of those who voted for the couple and planned their wedding.

“We just want to thank everybody for being so invested in us; this has been such a wonderful opportunity,” she said.

   

Photos: Melissa and Jeremy’s modern wedding

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  1. Melissa McMillin, 21, and Jeremy Gebhardt, 22 — separated for years because of Gebhardt’s tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan — earned the most votes on Facebook to become the recipients of TODAY’s annual wedding giveaway and gala on the Plaza. With a theme of "modern love," TODAY viewers chose everything from the wedding cake to the honeymoon location.
    At left, the groom gets some touch-ups before the ceremony, live on the Plaza on Sept. 30, 2010. (Denis Reggie Experience by Bella Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. TODAY's bride Melissa McMillin lets loose while getting ready for her wedding, planned by viewers and TODAY Facebook fans. (Denis Reggie Experience by Bella Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. The groomsmen, clad in chic bathrobes, are a festive entourage. (Denis Reggie Experience by Bella Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Viewers picked the "Old Hollywood" style for the bridesmaids. The ladies wore a gray Bari Jay dress with a dropped waist and shirred bodice. (Denis Reggie Experience by Bella Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. The groom takes a moment to relax before his wedding on the Plaza. (Denis Reggie Experience by Bella Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Bride Melissa McMillin spends a sweet moment with her mother, Mary McMillin, before the ceremony on the Plaza. (Denis Reggie Experience by Bella Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. The bride shows off her stunning hairstyle. (Denis Reggie Experience by Bella Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Melissa McMillin came prepared for a rainy wedding! She wore a champagne lace Paloma Blanca dress with a sweeping train. (Denis Reggie Experience by Bella Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. The mother of the bride Mary McMillin looks on as her daughter prepares for the big day. (Denis Reggie Experience by Bella Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Bride Melissa McMillin gets her hair and makeup done by the TODAY crew. (TODAY) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. The TODAY crew fusses over Melissa McMillin. (Denis Reggie Experience by Bella Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A string quartet played the "Bridal Chorus" by Wagner and "Empire State of Mind" by Alicia Keys. (TODAY) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Flower girl Abigal Warczakoski received enthusiastic applause from the wedding guests.
    Of the wedding, the bride said "Everyone is just so excited just to be a part of this whole process and we’re just so glad that everybody’s going to be able to come and have such a fun time for our wedding." (TODAY) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Members of the bridal party make their way down the aisle. (Denis Reggie Experience by Bella Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Father of the bride looks on as his daughter prepares to exchange vows. (Denis Reggie Experience by Bella Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Melissa and Jeremy exchanged vows with rings from celebrity jeweler Neil Lane. Melissa’s platinum band is set on three sides with 116 brilliant-cut diamonds, while Jeremy’s platinum band is designed and signed by Neil Lane. (TODAY) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Melissa and Jeremy become man and wife on the Plaza. (Denis Reggie Experience by Bella Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. The bride shows off her stunning bouquet. (Denis Reggie Experience by Bella Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. The newlyweds kiss before family and friends. "Everything thus far has been great," the bride said of the TODAY wedding experience. "It’s been perfect." (Denis Reggie Experience by Bella Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Viewers voted to send the couple off for a luxurious seven-day vacation to a private villa in the Turks and Caicos, complete with a private butler. Melissa beamed when she opened an envelope on the plaza telling her where she and her new hubby were headed. “We’re so excited! We can’t wait to go to a beach.” (TODAY) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Melissa and Jeremy enjoy their first laugh as husband and wife. (Denis Reggie Experience by Bella Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Melissa and Jeremy exit as newlyweds. (Denis Reggie Experience by Bella Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. TODAY's Al Roker, Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer share their wedding wishes. Al Roker raised a glass and said, “Melissa, you are studying to be a nurse, which shows you care about compassion and kindness. And Jeremy, with your service to our country, you’ve showed that you put that above all else, and for that we thank you.” (Denis Reggie Experience by Bella Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Gorgeous setting at the the Hudson Terrace, an urban oasis featuring a retractable glass dome, where guests enjoy scenic views of the Hudson River. Executive chef Thomas Besnard kept things light, serving smoked salmon with caviar, Swiss cheese and prosciutto with truffled eggs and frisee salad. (Denis Reggie Experience by Bella Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Reception cocktails included peach Bellinis, strawberry mimosas, Bloody Marys and coffee martinis. (Denis Reggie Experience by Bella Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. The bride shows off her platinum ring from celebrity jeweler Neil Lane. (Denis Reggie Experience by Bella Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Jeremy made a quick change out of his military dress to the Kenneth Cole tux TODAY viewers had selected for him. Guests mingled with the happy couple while nibbling hors d’oeuvres, fruit salad and chocolate mousse laced with coffee, along with goat cheese and fruit tartlets. (Denis Reggie Experience by Bella Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Treated like celebrities, Melissa and Jeremy had the renowned Colin Cowie as their wedding planner. Cowie, who has written five best-selling books on planning the perfect wedding, is known as the party planner to the stars, with a client list that includes Jerry Seinfeld, Oprah Winfrey, Nicole Kidman and Elton John. (Denis Reggie Experience by Bella Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. With their loved ones looking on, Melissa and Jeremy enjoy their first dance to "You Got What I Need," an original piece performed by Joshua Radin. Melissa noted the song reflected her own situation with Jeremy in a very profound way: “It was the perfect song for us.” (Denis Reggie Experience by Bella Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. The couple enjoy their first dance. (Denis Reggie Experience by Bella Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. The groom, clad in an ivory Kenneth Cole Black Label tux, poses with his groomsmen before cutting the cake. (Denis Reggie Experience by Bella Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. The bride, in a lace Paloma Blanca dress with a sweeping train, poses with her bridesmaids at the Hudson Terrace. (Denis Reggie Experience by Bella Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Melissa and Jeremy's loved ones have a bit of fun for the camera. (Denis Reggie Experience by Bella Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Guests share personal notes for the couple in a custom engraved wish box. (Denis Reggie Experience by Bella Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. The happy couple cut into the winning wedding cake by Ana Parzych Custom Cakes. The dessert has alternating tiers in four flavors and is adorned with hand-made sugar flowers. Celebrity wedding designer Colin Cowie planned the reception at Hudson Terrace. (Denis Reggie Experience by Bella Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. A sweet end to a perfect wedding. (Denis Reggie Experience by Bella Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
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Explainer: The making of TODAY’s modern wedding

  • The honeymoon

    Melissa and Jeremy will vacation on the island of Parrot Cay in the Turks and Caicos Islands. The newlyweds will spend seven nights in their own villa and enjoy activities such as snorkeling the pristine barrier reef, relaxing at a spa and eating at a beach barbecue.

    Read more about the honeymoon

  • The personal touch

    How can Melissa and Jeremy's family and friends express their love? By sharing personal notes for the couple in a custom engraved wish box.

    Read more about the personal detail

  • The wedding cake

    Image: Choose the TODAY Throws a Wedding cake
    TODAY

    Guests will enjoy a "classic romance" cake by Ana Parzych Custom Cakes. The dessert has alternating tiers in four flavors and is adorned with hand-made sugar flowers.

    Read more about the cake

  • The bridesmaid and flower girl dresses

    TODAY

    Viewers picked the “Old Hollywood” style! The ladies will wear a gray  Bari Jay dress with a dropped waist and shirred bodice, while the flower girl will wear a Fox ‘n Lily dress with an airy crinkle chiffon overlay and crisscrossing straps.

    Read more about the dresses

  • The gown and tux

    Viewers picked the “classic elegance” style. The bride will wear a champagne lace Paloma Blanca dress with a sweeping train, while the groom will don an ivory Kenneth Cole Black Label tux.

    Read more about the styles.

  • The reception venue

    Melissa and Jeremy will celebrate at the Hudson Terrace, an urban oasis featuring a retractable glass dome, where guests can take in the serene ambiance with scenic views of the Hudson River.

    Read more about the venues.

  • The rings

    Melissa and Jeremy will exchange vows with rings from celebrity jeweler Neil Lane. Melissa’s platinum band is set on three sides with 116 brilliant-cut diamonds, while Jeremy’s platinum band is designed and signed by Neil Lane.

    Read more about the rings.

  • The favors

    What's in store for the guests? Melissa and Jeremy will give each of their loved ones a Sony DSC-WX5 digital camera. With amazing features like great low-light shots without a flash, a smarter point and shoot, and background defocusing made easy — they'll be able to capture all of the memorable moments in vivid, crisp, true-to-life color. The camera also has video capability to capture HD videos.

    Watch more about the favors.

  • The winners

    Jonathan Woods/msnbc.com
    Melissa McMillin, 21, and Jeremy Gebhardt, 22, will wed on Rockefeller Plaza — and on national television — as excited fans and well-wishers look on.

    The young Missouri couple — separated for years because of Gebhardt’s tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan — earned the most votes on Facebook to become the recipients of TODAY’s wedding.

    When submitting videos along with their application, they said such a wedding would be a dream come true for them after living apart for so long under such serious circumstances. When Jeremy isn’t deployed in the Middle East as a senior airman in the U.S. Air Force, he’s stationed in Anchorage, Alaska.

    “We have waited three long years for each other and I’ve dreamt of the day that I can finally say, ‘Hi! I’m Melissa Gebhardt,’” Melissa, 21, said in her video.

    Read more about the winning couple.

  • The theme

    Image: Today's Wedding. modern.love
    Today show

    TODAY is partnering with Facebook to throw a modern day wedding!

    From the bride's dress to the honeymoon location, we're counting on viewers to plan a unique dream wedding on the Plaza.

    Become a Facebook fan and follow the exciting progress!

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