It was 2003 and nearing the end of her bachelor’s program when Angela, living in Birmingham, Alabama at the time, began reflecting on her upcoming graduation festivities with Columbia Southern University. It occurred to her that, unlike a traditional college graduation, she would be graduating with people whom she had never met in person and with whom she had very limited virtual interactions. Angela decided she would change that for the sake of celebrating graduation with friends.
She decided to send an email to her fellow classmates.
“Graduation was coming up and I didn’t want to go to Orange Beach and graduate with a group of strangers; I wanted to go to graduation and throw my cap in the air with someone I knew. So, I sent an email to my classmates and asked, ‘What do you do? Tell me who you are.’”
Jason Bortz, a Marine living in Houston, was one of the classmates who received that email.
“Angela sent this email saying who she was and that she wanted to get to know her classmates. She said she owned a marketing company and because I was doing marketing for a Marine Corps recruiting office at the time, I thought we could share stories and I could learn a lot from her.”
After Jason responded to Angela’s initial email, it quickly became a daily ritual for the two to correspond. They began to share stories of their careers and education, reflecting on classes they took and lessons they learned. From there, it grew into a friendship.
“I had no idea the Marine Corps did marketing; it just wasn’t my demographic,” said Angela. “I worked for credit unions so his stories were a whole new dynamic for me.”
“Every morning when I got to work, I couldn’t wait to check my email,” said Jason, reflecting on his anticipation of hearing from Angela.
Angela remembers asking Jason to tell her stories of places he had visited during his time with the Marine Corps.
“I hadn’t been to as many cities as he had countries,” said Angela, “I would just pick a place and ask him what it was like there. Places like Spain, Israel and the Philippines. He is a fantastic storyteller so I would get these fantastic stories in my inbox first thing each morning; it was amazing.”
Jason said, “We started out as friends just sharing stories. As we shared stories, we realized we had so much in common—movies, books, life and philosophies.”
After several weeks of emailing each other back and forth, Jason was planning to visit his family for Thanksgiving and would be away from his computer over the holiday. The couple says that this time of pause was a turning point in their relationship.
Angela remembers, “He went on vacation and I didn’t hear from him for a week. When he came back, I started to realize just how much he meant to me. We weren’t trying to be anything but friends, so it wasn’t until I didn’t hear from him over the holiday that I realized I was head-over-heels in love with this guy.”
“The whole time I was away, I was pining to get home and get to talk to her again,” remembers Jason.
After the holidays, the two began a whirlwind romance. They still had never met in person but they continued talking daily and dreaming of the future.
“I remember when I finally got up the nerve to call her,” said Jason. “I thought I would be impressive so when she answered the phone I said, ‘Hello, Angela? This is Staff Sgt. Jason Bortz of the United States Marine Corps.’ And she said, ‘Who?’”
Jason said all of his confidence was drained and he replied, “You know, we’ve been emailing every day?” Angela finally got it: “Oh, Jason!”
Jason said it wasn’t too long after that that they could both tell the other wanted to say something important.
“We were talking on the phone one day and I knew I wanted to say something, and I thought she might too but neither of us did,” he said. “We hung up, I called her right back, and I said, ‘You know what? I have to tell you something. I’m in love with you.’”
Not long after that, Angela began researching jobs and planning a move to Houston.
“I’m not a ‘jump in with both feet’ kind of girl; I’m pretty reserved,” she said. “But with Jason, I never had any reservations. Since he and I had built such a strong friendship, I thought, if I move to Houston and the relationship goes nowhere, then I at least had an adventure and have an amazing, beautiful friend in life.”
Of course, the relationship did go somewhere. In lieu of an engagement ring, Jason decided to design something much more Angela’s style. He bought her a necklace that features the Marine Corps logo and the letter “J,” and that was what he presented to her when he proposed.
For their wedding in September 2004, the couple planned to go to Key West, but a hurricane kept them in Miami.
“We were stuck in Miami so we found a justice of the peace, I put on my Marine Corps uniform and she put on a beautiful white dress; we walked on the sand, said our vows and we got married! It was just us.”
Angela says their whole relationship has been an amazing journey. “It’s just amazing to reflect back on how we started. Our whole lives started with one innocent little email.”
After the couple wed, Jason and Angela moved around the country, experienced deployment and grew in their careers. While living in Quantico, Virginia, in 2012, Jason retired from the Marine Corps and Angela took a job in Pensacola, Florida. Jason then found a job working in public affairs for the naval hospital there and the two headed south.
They have since recruited their daughter Felicia to earn her degree through CSU, and Jason went on to earn his master’s. After walking with the woman he would later call his wife in the 2004 Commencement, he walked across the stage again in 2012 with Felicia.
Their home in Pensacola was close to the CSU campus, but for Jason and Angela, it just wasn’t quite close enough. They had to find a way to bring their story full circle.
“We’re buying a house just a stone’s throw from CSU,” said Angela. “CSU has really become the core of our family, the core of our lives now, really. CSU is like family for us, so living in Orange Beach, Alabama, only seems right.”
While reflecting on the beginnings of their relationship and the education that brought them together, Jason and Angela realized they have accrued a lot of wisdom they wish to share with others.
Jason said, “If I could share one thing I have learned, it would be to find what you’re passionate about and pursue it no matter what. Whether it’s a person or a hobby or your education, find your passion in life and don’t listen to the people who try to talk you out of it.”
“Don’t be afraid to reach out and get to know people,” said Angela. “Say ‘hello’ and ask people about their life, then listen. So many opportunities in life are lost because we are so busy that we stop listening to the people who cross our path. You never know how much of an impact someone can make or how important a person can be to you if you just take the time to ask something as simple as ‘tell me a story; tell me something about yourself.’”
This article was originally published in the CSU Alumni Magazine in October 2017.
Disclaimer: These testimonials may not reflect the experience of all CSU students.
Multiple factors, including prior experience, geography, and degree field, affect career outcomes.
CSU does not guarantee a job, promotion, salary increase, eligibility for a position, or other career growth.