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Penn State Love Stories: A Love That’s Been There All Along

Love isn’t always easy to find. But sometimes it appears right in front of you, and suddenly you’re falling for someone who’s been there all along.

For Penn State alums Matt Cillo and Jenna Pannone, this just so happened to be the case. The couple grew up in the same hometown of Flemington, New Jersey, but they never officially crossed paths until their freshman year of high school in 2002.

They remained friendly throughout high school, but nothing dramatic or life-altering ever came of it. After a senior year college search and with careful consideration, Cillo and Pannone both made the decision to flee their home state of New Jersey and escape Rutgers to become Nittany Lions, instead.

During their years in Happy Valley, the two friends spent plenty of time together. They frequented plenty of beloved Penn State locations in their free time, like Old Main and the Arboretum. The two even shared a mutual love for Saloon.

While their shared passion for all things Penn State might have sparked the flames between them, Cillo and Pannone bonded over live music the most. The two traveled across the United States to see their favorite rock artists perform live and became closer than ever before in the process.

Surprisingly, as their college years passed them by, the couple’s relationship remained completely platonic through their senior year. Pannone decided to make the first move by telling Cillo how she really felt.

To perhaps no one’s surprise, but still, very thankfully, Cillo confessed that the feeling was mutual. He had been harboring a crush on her, as well. They began dating that June after graduation and nearly a decade after the pair had met for the first time.

As life after graduation loomed closer, their future was thrown into question. Cillo secured a job in Denver, and Pannone was getting ready to attend the University of Missouri for veterinary school. Despite the uncertainty, the uneasiness of it all somehow drew them closer together.

“We think it took being faced with the possibility of being pulled away from each other to make us realize how deeply we cared for one another,” said Pannone. Despite their divergent career paths, the couple remained together through it all. Cillo supported Pannone through veterinary school and an internship later on.

“He continues to surprise me, obviously, in big and small ways all the time,” Pannone said. “I’m so happy we’re together.”

And on one fateful and special weekend, Pannone was in for the biggest surprise of her life.

Cillo and Pannone planned a weekend trip to Happy Valley to visit Pannone’s brother and attend Blue-White. Little did Pannone know that Cillo’s suitcase wasn’t packed with only Nittany Lion apparel in his suitcase, but a ring as well.

Cillo’s original plan was to propose at sunset. Unfortunately, he was running late to the game and missed the sunset altogether. No less determined, however, he decided to wait until after dinner to make his grand gesture instead.

His original plan was to propose next to the sundial they had frequented in their early days. He had had the first half of the quote, “Grow old with me,” engraved on the inside of the band of the ring, a fitting sentiment for the timing and location.

Unfortunately, the sundial was roped off, so Cillo suggested they “take a few pictures” on the steps in front of Old Main instead. It was then that Cillo finally popped the question to a surprised and excited Pannone.

“I had no idea Matt was planning to propose, which now I realize I should have seen coming given we have been together for almost nine years,” she said.

After the engagement, Cillo and Pannone celebrated in classic Penn State fashion: by grabbing a slice at College Pizza. The newly-engaged couple celebrated with Pannone’s family the next morning at brunch and later with Pannone’s sister, Michelle, who drove from Scranton to be with them.

While Cillo and Pannone still have a wedding to plan, they’re focusing on looking for a home in Denver first.

But after nearly two decades of knowing each other, it’s clear that they’re not rushed for time. Cillo and Pannone know how to be patient and enjoy every moment of the journey together.

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About the Author

Mackenzie Cullen

Sadly, Mackenzie graduated from Penn State in 2022. She majored in English and served as one of Onward State's associate editors. You can keep up with her life and send compliments to @MackenzieC__ on Twitter.

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