Penn State Love Stories: A Grad Party Like No Other

One of Penn State’s newest alums had more than one reason to celebrate during last weekend’s virtual commencement.

Kelsey Martinez commemorated her academic achievements with a surprise grad party after earning a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Penn State’s World Campus. Her now-fiance, Caleb Sandberg, took the party up another notch when he surprised her with a proposal.

Sandberg said he knew that he wanted to spend his life with Martinez after their first year as a couple. He talked with his friends on how to make that moment special.

He originally planned to pop the question to Martinez last year after a Kenny Chesney concert while taking a ferry ride with the Seattle skyline in the background. However, on the day of the concert, a surprise of its own happened when Martinez was pregnant with their daughter, Maliyah.

From there, Sandberg had to reevaluate how he was going to propose. His backup plan this time was simple: let things fall into place. Thanks to Zoom, Sandberg included their family and friends on the special occasion.

“[The proposal plan] slowly kind of took place and developed on its own. All I wanted to do was have [our friends and family] there and let it naturally fall into place,” Sandberg said.

Sandberg takes surprises very seriously. He didn’t even tell friends or family he would propose to Martinez during her graduation party.

“I wanted to make sure that everybody got the surprise,” Sandberg said. “Everybody thought that they were in on the surprise by being there for Kelsey for her graduation party, but even the people that I invited to the Zoom meeting, they were shocked.”

Martinez had a little bit of an idea that Sandberg had something planned for her graduation but thought it would only include the two of them plus their kids — Mason, Blake, and Maliyah.

Sandberg told Martinez to get a shower and that they were going to go on a Zoom call with Sandberg’s dad to speak about some of their future plans. When she came downstairs, two of her kids walked her into their living room, which was covered in Penn State decorations as “Hail To The Lion” played.

Martinez said she was blown away by how well Sandberg’s party setup was and how many of their closest friends and family were on the Zoom call.

Little did she know, Martinez was about to be even more blown away when Sandberg dropped to one knee as he popped the question – instead of the champagne – with his great-grandma’s ring.

“When I first thought of the party, I was like ‘Oh, there might be a proposal,'” Martinez said. “But once I was in the moment and overwhelmed, it wasn’t even a thought in my mind, which was awesome. So when he was like, ‘I want to pop champagne,’ I was very thrown off.”

Courtesy of Kelsey Martinez

The couple grew up in the same hometown of Albany, Oregon but never crossed paths throughout their adolescent years. Martinez was coming out of an abusive marriage in 2015 when Sandberg’s roommate, who Martinez knew from high school, introduced them to each other.

Sandberg said that while he wanted to propose to Martinez for many reasons, he also wanted to give her and her family some good news in these uncertain times.

“I wanted to bring some joy to [Kelsey] and our friends and just celebrate life and the good things that we still have and the things that we can manage and kind of control,” Sandberg said.

Martinez and Sandberg aren’t in a rush to make any definitive wedding plans and are enjoying their recent engagement. Martinez, who is part Greek, said she wants to get married in Greece one day.

“We’re kind of just enjoying this time and when the time is right, it’ll be right,” Martinez said.

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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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