Barry McNamara  |  Published May 20, 2024

Commencement Couples

Several 2024 classmates ended their time at Monmouth College as couples, much like the speakers for the day, Sigourney Weaver and Jim Simpson.

LILLIAN HUCKE AND CADE SHARP: The couple has been together since their time as students at nearby Mercer County High School... LILLIAN HUCKE AND CADE SHARP: The couple has been together since their time as students at nearby Mercer County High School in Aledo.MONMOUTH, Ill. – As actress Sigourney Weaver and director/producer Jim Simpson related how their creative partnership has flourished over the past four decades during their Monmouth College Commencement address on May 19, members of the Class of 2024 listened intently, perhaps none more so than the classmates who are taking their next step into the real world as a couple.

Of those couples – which number more than a half dozen – art majors Grace Cornelius and Charlie Conkle, who both graduated summa cum laude, understood the concept of creative partnership better than most.

“We met while we were building and painting sets in the theatre for Fusion Fest our sophomore year,” said Cornelius.

Some of the Class of 2024 couples were asked what they might’ve spoken about if they were in Weaver and Simpson’s shoes, and Cornelius’s reply was very similar to the theme of the actual Commencement address.

“I’d talk about working alongside Charlie in our art major throughout the past four years, and how we managed the ups and downs of creating art with one another,” she said.

ALIVIA PALICKI AND ZACH LUNDQUIST: The couple was both involved in the fine arts. Palicki graduated cum laude with a degree... ALIVIA PALICKI AND ZACH LUNDQUIST: The couple was both involved in the fine arts. Palicki graduated cum laude with a degree in art, while Lundquist earned degrees in music and physics.Said Conkle: “I’d speak about how someone you never expected to be with is sometimes the person you’re meant to be with. As corny as it may be, opposites do attract.”

Cade Sharp, whose girlfriend, classmate Lillian Hucke, spoke at Commencement, shared that sentiment – that despite “being two very different people,” they’ve been together eight years, since their time as students at Mercer County High School in nearby Aledo, Illinois.


DQ & P.E.

For the ’24 couples who met at Monmouth, there was definitely a sense of being in the right place at the right time. Sarah Saddoris and Kane Miller lived close enough together in the Illinois communities of Port Byron and Geneseo that they could’ve met before college, but it was Monmouth that brought them together.

“We met in the fall of 2021 in our adaptive physical education class,” said Saddoris. “When he introduced himself to the class, Kane said he was from Geneseo. To my surprise, that was only 20 minutes from my hometown. I thought to myself, how have I never met this person before? I even worked at the Dairy Queen in Geneseo for three years, but Kane and I had never crossed paths.”

By the end of that academic year on campus, they were a couple.

“We talked as classmates and friends for the next two semesters and finally in the spring semester on April 25, 2022, Kane asked me to be his girlfriend,” said Saddoris. “We’ve been together for two years and we couldn’t be more in love with each other.”

The theme of a couples-related talk that Saddoris and Miller would give is “keep growing.”

“Much like life, the beauty about relationships is that you help each other grow as partners, but also as individuals,” said Saddoris. “You are never done growing in a relationship. That’s what makes you stronger together.”


BWOC & BMOC

GREEK LIFE: Tori Cook and Eli Kelly met through mutual connections in fraternity and sorority life. GREEK LIFE: Tori Cook and Eli Kelly met through mutual connections in fraternity and sorority life.One of the Class of 2024 couples brings a healthy dose of “big man on campus” star power to their relationship. Tori Cook, who was recently named Greek Woman of the Year for her role with Alpha Xi Delta, has been “officially dating” Eli Kelly, the Senior Man of the Year, for several months.

“Eli and I met through mutual connections in the fraternity and sorority life community last March, and we’ve been officially dating this whole school year,” said Cook. “After Commencement, Eli will be working here at Monmouth as the athletic bands director, and I will be attending Northern Illinois University to get a Ph.D. in physics.”

FATIMA GUTIERREZ AND SENCERE BRENT: Gutierrez graduated with a degree in sociology and anthropology, while Brent studied en... FATIMA GUTIERREZ AND SENCERE BRENT: Gutierrez graduated with a degree in sociology and anthropology, while Brent studied engineering.If Cook and Kelly shared the podium, they’d discuss a theme they both exemplified at Monmouth.

“I think we’d talk about the importance of involvement,” said Cook. “Eli and I are both heavily involved on campus and in the community, and I think it’s heavily enhanced our Monmouth experience.”

Said Kelly: “Monmouth College is a place where people want you to be in everything you can. And it’s not just, ‘Oh, we’d be happy to have you.’ The College thrives on students who are really involved. So experience everything.”

Several of the couples won’t be settling in the same place, at least at first. Cornelius and Conkle will be returning to their respective homes in the Chicago suburbs, while Saddoris and Miller will be teaching in the Illinois communities of Taylor Ridge and Galesburg, respectively.

“If it was not for Monmouth College, I don’t think I would have ever met the love of my life. Our passion for physical education is what brought us together, but our beliefs and values are what keep us together.” – Sarah Saddoris


“Our goal is by 2025 to move into an apartment together after saving some money from our first year of teaching,” said Saddoris. “We are not worried about long distance since we have tackled that head on during our student-teaching experience. We are each other’s No. 1 supporters with our dreams and goals.”

Leaving the school where they met is bittersweet, but the old Friday Night Lights adage applies: “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.”

“If it was not for Monmouth College, I don’t think I would have ever met the love of my life,” said Saddoris. “Our passion for physical education is what brought us together, but our beliefs and values are what keep us together.”

“We appreciate all that Monmouth gave us, and now we’re excited to see what our futures have in store,” said Cornelius.

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