14 Dec 2020

The New Hot Wedding Destination: A Hybrid Classroom


by Mark Cautela

Picture it. A beautiful village in Tuscany, Italy. What could be more ideal setting for a wedding, especially for the family members travelling from Rome, Russia, and the United States? That was the location selected by Elena Komarova, an instructional designer in HBS IT, and her fiancé, Matteo Rinaldi, director of the Northeastern SMART Center for research and a professor of electrical and computer engineering. Scheduled for this past July, Elena and Mateo were incredibly excited for their big day, only to have to cancel it when the pandemic hit.

Bagno Vignoni, an Italian village on a hill above the Val d'Orcia in Tuscany, and the original wedding site.

“COVID-19 brought a lot of loss, grief, and devastation to 2020. Family gatherings, travel plans, and graduations were canceled or postponed. For our family, it was our wedding that was scheduled for July in beautiful Tuscany,” Elena said. “We canceled all of our plans hoping that soon we'd be able to schedule a new date. Half a year later, there is no indication of the pandemic retreating and no one can tell when, if ever, we will be able to have our dream wedding with all of our extended family and friends.”

Excited to begin their married life together, and not wanting to gamble on when restrictions around COVID-19 would be lifted, the couple obtained a marriage license with the intent of having a small ceremony to broadcast to their family. However, Boston City Hall is currently closed for wedding ceremonies, and once a marriage license is obtained, it must be used within two months. Elena and Matteo were racking their brains: How could they find a location, an officiant, perform the ceremony, and include their loved ones, all in a short period of time?

Elena Komarova, an instructional designer in HBS IT, and her fiancé, Matteo Rinaldi, when they got engaged.

Luckily, Elena is used to coming up with creative solutions involving technology. Having previously worked in our IT department, Elena recently returned to HBS specifically to help us launch hybrid learning. She has been instrumental to the success of the program, spending countless hours training faculty and staff on how to teach in the virtual format. You could say she was the perfect person for this task: She received her master’s in educational technology leadership from George Washington University…remotely!

In a recent hybrid classroom training session with Assistant Professor Andy Wu, who is also a friend from Matteo’s days at the University of Pennsylvania, Elena mentioned their need for an officiant. Andy, an officiant himself, offered his services. With that problem solved, Elena’s manager, Patrice Lawless, half-jokingly suggested they marry in the hybrid classroom. “Isn’t it every girl’s dream to get married in a college classroom?” she laughed.

The more Elena thought about it, the more it made sense.

“For the past six months, I've been working on helping HBS students feel included in class virtually, no matter where they might be in the world,” she said. “And it occurred to me that a hybrid environment is a perfect alternative given the circumstances. We can have all our friends and family share the experience with us virtually.”

Given Elena’s extensive work on the hybrid classroom project, the couple’s connection to HBS faculty, and the powerful way the HBS hybrid classrooms allow for in-person and remote connection, the idea quickly became reality. Patrice even became their OWF (Online Wedding Facilitator).

This past Saturday, at 12 p.m. (the couple purposefully chose the time and date of 12 p.m. on 12/12), close to 100 family, friends, and colleagues joined remotely to watch as Elena and Matteo exchanged vows. Loved ones from both sides offered virtual blessings and readings in their native language (Italian and Russian respectively), while friends from the U.S. gave Zoom toasts in English. There was a video, music, and even a photographer who captured the ceremony in safe, socially distant way. The only thing missing was food.

Elena and Matteo's zoom wedding in a hybrid classroom.

“Anyone who knows me at HBS knows I love food,” Elena commented. “Matteo and I first met at a friend’s house party, when I walked in and saw him cooking. He’s been cooking for me for the last five years.”

The couple had a quiet dinner after the ceremony to celebrate, and is looking forward to the day when they can have an in-person wedding with all of the food, dancing, and joy that comes with having all of your loved ones present.

In the meantime, they are incredibly thankful for the opportunity to utilize the space that Elena helped create to begin their journey together as husband and wife.

“COVID-19 brought on the need for the hybrid environment and I've been consumed by this project for the majority of the pandemic,” said Elena. “It feels natural to marry the love of my life, a professor, safely in a hybrid classroom, officiated by an HBS faculty member in front of friends and family witnessing it from all the corners of the world.”

Watch a WCVB news clip about the wedding.

HBS Assistant Professor Andy Wu served as officiant, and Elena and Matteo's family from around the world joined the ceremony virtually.

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