William and Sam

Massey celebrants talk about love

February has long been associated with romance and for hearts to beat as one, infused with a sense of love and magic. The air is filled with the sweet fragrance of blooming flowers, and the warm sun caresses the skin like a gentle lover’s touch. The soft breeze carries the sound of laughter and love as couples stroll hand in hand along the beaches and parks.

A passion for love and relationships and a willingness to help couples celebrate their union in a meaningful and memorable way have always been Massey alumni William Song and Samantha Johnston’s motivations to be marriage celebrants.

“Committing to giving each couple a personalised wedding”

Chinese It was a sunny day, and the sky was a canvas of brilliant blues and pinks, painted with the colours of a perfect summer sunset. A Nelson backyard garden was crowded with guests greeted by traditional Chinese knots and western fairy lights – a special wedding ceremony featuring a fusion of traditions and customs from China, Netherlands, and Aotearoa New Zealand was about to begin. William witnessed the bride and groom sharing their vows in English and Chinese, respectively, and married the couple when they sealed their commitment with a kiss.

The bride is a Dutch New Zealander, and the groom is from China. They met in China, fell in love, before moving to Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland last year. The couple had been planning their wedding for years and had their family and friends flying from all over the world to experience the joy of their marriage. They invited William to officiate their wedding ceremony and reception party bilingually.

“The ceremony was personalised with readings, decorations, and food blended beautifully with the newlyweds’ cultures and traditions. It illustrates why I wanted to be a marriage celebrant - to help migrants better combine their hometown customs with local culture,” William says.

It has been over twenty years since William migrated from China to study initially, work, make the most of his new adventure, and build a life here. He graduated with a Postgraduate Diploma in Business Administration in Marketing in 2010. 

“Although more than ten years have passed, the experience of studying at Massey University is something I will never forget in my life. I had an engineering background before attending Massey. My study journey opened the door to a new world, which intrigued me with a broader interest to explore more and equipped me with the flexible and portable skills that took me to the next step in my career,” William says.

As time went by, those youngsters who immigrated to New Zealand at the same time as William began to move their life to the next chapter – getting married and starting a family. However, not many marriage celebrants were familiar with Asian and Western cultures and could officiate a wedding bilingually.

“One of the reasons that I love this country is because of its inclusiveness and diversity, and I’ve been treated with so much kindness that I wanted to give this great gift to others, to couples who come from different cultural backgrounds and want to incorporate both of their cultures into their wedding ceremonies.”

Wedding with William as Celebrant

This encouraged William to complete a celebrant school course and inspired him to serve the Asian community in New Zealand. 

This year is his ninth year as a New Zealand government-registered wedding celebrant, and he has helped more than 200 couples with their registry ceremonies.

“I believe every wedding is unique, and I am always committed to giving each couple a personalised and special wedding experience. Every couple’s relationship is worth celebrating, and they always give me a different interpretation of marriage and love, and that’s what I love about this job.”

“I love weddings – who doesn’t?”

An eagerness to attend a university and have the student lifestyle encouraged Samantha Johnston to pursue a Bachelor of Business Studies in Finance and International Business at Massey University. Studying brought her surprising results. On the first day of university, Sam was excited and looked forward to the academic challenges of university. Little did she know that she would also meet the love of her life that very same day.

“I would have never guessed when I moved into room eight in Matai Hall that I’d end up marrying the guy who was in room seven,” Sam says with a laugh. 

The early part of Sam and Brad Kilgour’s relationship was centred around Massey. Nine years after meeting, the happy couple married and started their journey together as husband and wife. 

Sam and Brads Wedding
Sam and Brad's wedding

Sam was a born organiser and public speaker. She grew up living in Japan, Australia, and New Zealand with her family, which she believes has made her the person she is today. Having been to a few weddings sparked the idea of being a marriage celebrant. 

“I was at that age that everyone was starting to get married, and I’d been to a few weddings and thought I could do a good job of being a celebrant, so I started investigating! I love weddings – who doesn’t?”  

Sam was trained by the Celebrant Training College and became a member of the Celebrants Association of New Zealand in 2016 to help couples say “I do”. Her first wedding was another fellow Matai Hall resident. “She was my neighbour at Massey and living in room six of Matai Hall. I’d been training to be a celebrant, and she was happy to be my first!” Sam says. 

“There is something special about making a marriage official, whether in front of over a hundred friends or family or just a small elopement with a couple of people. I love it when the couple make it about themselves, not worrying about what everyone else might think or do. It is pretty neat to be involved in such an intimate moment.”

Sam is now based in Reporoa on a dairy farm and has been a celebrant for nearly seven years now. “I’ve done weddings at public schools, on boats, in a bar at Auckland International Airport’s departure lounge, and I’ve been to some beautiful lodges and lakes to marry people. I will hit one hundred weddings this year!

“I have married ten of my Massey friends. Massey will always sit in a special place in my heart.”

Weddings with Sam as Celebrant