What do Dance Dance Revolution, Dungeons & Dragons, and theatre arts have in common? For alumni Mark Kerr and Paola Carbajal, these were just a few of the building blocks for their deep commitment to each other and their devotion to the Toro community.
Perhaps no previous (or future) Toro alums have had as close a relationship with the campus as Kerr and Carbajal. CSUDH is their alma mater and employer. They were married on campus, and they’ve lived in student housing for the last eight years.
“It’s quite a legacy story,” says Carbajal. “It’s not always ideal to live where you work. Some day we would like to have a house of our own. But we’ve made a good life here for us and for our two cats, Freyja and Gutz.”
Kerr and Carbajal met on campus in 2008, though each tells the story a little differently. “We met in the old game room at Loker Student Union, where we would play Dance Dance Revolution,” Kerr says. “Paola was in between relationships, and I was single. We just vibed.”
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As Carbajal tells it, she was singing Karaoke during a session of Rock Band when Kerr introduced himself. “Mark thought he would be funny by coming up during my song and asking what was dying,” she says, laughing. “I knew it was a joke, but my friends were really angry.”
Both are local South Bay kids. Kerr grew up in Lawndale and attended El Camino College before transferring to CSUDH in 2005. Carbajal was raised in nearby Wilmington and started at CSUDH right after graduation from Bishop Montgomery High School in 2007.
Walks along the Pike in Long Beach, a shared passion for music and theatre–they both majored in theatre arts at CSUDH–and of course, Dungeons & Dragons, convinced them that they had found something special.
Kerr says it wasn’t just one thing but an accumulation of things that convinced him he’d found true love. “She’s 100% down for Dungeons & Dragons. She even wanted her own dice. When she took on different creative projects and theatre roles, she told me she’d be happier if I was a part of those projects with her,” Kerr said. “Over time, I was just, like, I don’t ever want to leave this person.”
Kerr had completed his bachelor’s degree when he met Carbajal. He was working as a student counselor for the College of Health, Human Services and Nursing while starting on his Master of Education degree. Carbajal’s path to graduation took a more circuitous route.
“Mark got to see me go through many different majors. I even transferred to Harbor College for a time, but I came back and finally settled on a degree in theatre arts,” Carbajal says. “I was fortunate to have my own personal student counselor to help me through some difficult times.”
The two also worked together in campus theatrical productions of Biloxi Blues, a modern retelling of MacBeth, set among Mexican drug cartels, and She Kills Monsters–a comedic take on, you guessed it, Dungeons & Dragons.
“There’s a photo of the first time we both appeared together on stage in She Kills Monsters. You wouldn’t know it because I’m on a platform, and he’s lying on the ground dead,” says Carbajal.
Carbajal graduated in 2013 and accepted a job with student housing as a residential life coordinator. A year later, she and Kerr were married during a ceremony in the sculpture garden, followed by a reception in the student union. “We were still young professionals. I had just graduated, and money was tight,” says Carbajal.
November 2024 will mark Kerr and Carbajal’s 10th wedding anniversary, and Kerr says he hopes to have some kind of celebration on campus. “We’re not thinking of anything massive, but it would be nice to do something in the sculpture garden again.”
Carbajal, who has one year left to finish her master’s degree in educational administration, says they’re still talking about options, including a vow renewal ceremony. “We were so young when we got married. 25-year-old me is different in some ways from who I am now. Renewing our vows would be a good way to solidify this new chapter in our lives.”
As for life on campus, it has its advantage and disadvantages, says Kerr. “I love being here. Most of our students have a really great vibe. But it can be stressful. When you’re an advisor, or a residential life coordinator like Paola, the job doesn’t just end at 5 p.m.,” Kerr says.
“I might come across a student in the commons area who’s dealing with a family loss,” Kerr adds. “I can’t just turn my counselor mode off. It might be 7 p.m., I might be hungry or have a headache. But the student needs me. That’s what we do. That’s why we’re here.”