A schoolteacher spends more time with her students than anyone else, so when it came time to get married, one teacher couldn’t imagine tying the knot without them. So she invited her entire class to be in the ceremony.
Marielle Slagel Keller walked down the aisle this summer with 20 students strolling ahead of her, all wearing white and carrying garlands.
The Indiana-based teacher leads a combination class of kindergarten and first graders, which means she has had half of her students for the past two years.
“It just seemed natural. It didn’t seem right to not have them in the wedding so I asked them to be in it. I never thought that it was anything too out of the ordinary,” said Keller, 25.
She and her husband, Michael, got married June 24. After recently getting back her photos, Keller shared some of them with the Indianapolis School District, which posted some of the pictures, and described the story behind them, on its website and social media pages.
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Despite their young ages, most students understood what a special role they played in the ceremony, said Brooke Starnes, whose 7-year-old daughter, Annie, was in Keller's class for two years.
“I think probably in 10 years or 20 years, it will become even more special to them to have this memory that will be with them forever,” she said.
When students received their invitation last December, the request didn’t strike many of their parents as unusual.
“I don’t think it came as a surprise to anyone, because Marielle is that kind of teacher,” said Starnes, who described the wedding with the same word she describes Keller: magical.
“It was an epic adventure for her to invite the entire class for her wedding, for sure. But at the same time, I would expect that from Marielle because she has that kind of relationship with every student in the class. She just connects so well and so easily with every kid,” she said.
She said Keller’s decision to hold a private cupcake party specifically for the students and their families immediately after the reception illustrated the thoughtfulness the teacher demonstrated consistently to her class.
Keller said her husband only recently admitted that he had reservations about inviting so many children to be a part of their ceremony.
“After the wedding he told me, ‘I really thought you were crazy to do this. I didn’t want to hurt your feelings, but I thought there was no way these kids would sit through a 30-minute ceremony.’ But they did, and they sat perfectly,” she told TODAY.
“But I think there were a few who shielded their eyes during the kiss.”
Keller said she never expected her wedding to get as much attention as it has.
“It was definitely a risk to put them in my wedding, so take the risk because it pays off," she said, sharing what she hopes others will take away from her story.
She also acknowledged that many teachers fear establishing strong relationships with parents of their students. Keller said so many of her parents, most of whom came into her classroom every morning to drop off their children, ended up being a great source of moral and emotional support as she prepared for her wedding.
“For teachers, sometimes it’s scary to be too close with parents," she said. "You have to maintain that professional relationship with students and families, but you have to remember they can also be your biggest support system.”