CHAMPAIGN — Plenty of people meet their future spouse in college, and online matches are no longer a novelty.
Valerie Miller and Jesse Lambertson managed to do both.
They are graduating from the University of Illinois this weekend — in absentia — with a master's degree in library science from the library school's "LEEP" online education program.
The program proved to be a matchmaker: They got married last November.
"You never know how life's going to happen," Lambertson said last week.
The couple, now 37, met in July 2010 at a 10-day on-campus "boot camp" for LEEP students. Their group of about 55 graduate students went through training programs, tours and an introductory class together.
Lambertson and Miller wound up in the same study group and got to know each other as regulars at a computer lab at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science. And they spent lots of time at the nearby Espresso Royale coffee shop at Sixth and Daniel streets.
They connected right away on an intellectual level, and Miller was impressed with Lambertson's sense of caring even in casual conversations.
"One of the first things I liked about him is that he was very affirming and present when talking to people," Miller said.
She remembers a conversation they had standing in line at the coffee shop, when Lambertson talked about literature, philosophy and other weighty topics.
"All I could do was nod and say 'I know exactly what you mean,'" she said. "He's very intellectual and tends to think outside the box."
He remembers, in turn, being impressed by her reactions in class to discussions about ethics, censorship and the politics of library collections.
"She had a certain way of seeing the world that I liked," he said. "She's a really smart woman, and reads a lot, and has a great vocabulary and an ability to interact with ideas at a relatively high level."
Toward the end of boot camp, the group went to the Blind Pig downtown, and that's where Miller and Lambertson arranged their first proper date — "just she and I without all the other people," as he put it. It was in Chicago, where Lambertson was living at the time. Miller went through the Windy City on her way home to Washington.
They went to the movies and walked around the city, and then Lambertston took her to the airport. He promised to keep in touch via Facebook. Miller said that wasn't exactly what she had in mind. So they communicated via email and eventually phone calls.
A month later, Lambertson flew out to see her. They took turns visiting each other, including their required on-campus sessions once a semester. By May 2011, they were engaged.
Lambertson moved out East just after Thanksgiving. They married on Nov. 30 in a brief civil ceremony, then spent an unseasonably warm weekend honeymooning at Myrtle Beach.
Miller and Lambertson are thankful that the program — and the fates — brought them together.
"I feel blessed, absolutely, to have met him," Miller said.
After years of searching for relationships, Lambertson said he had decided to just "accept opportunities that happen, rather than trying to make them happen." In this case, in exploring a new professional career, "I opened my life to an awesome relationship," he said.
"Quite a few" LEEP graduates have gone on to get married, said Valerie Youngen, GSLIS admissions and records officer.
"Sometimes at orientation, I tell them to look around, this may be your future husband," she said.
Miller had chosen the UI's LEEP program after completing her philosophy degree from Boston University online in 2009. She was working in information services at Georgetown University and wanted to earn a library science degree.
She investigated other universities but didn't want to leave the Washington area, where she lives with her 11-year-old daughter, Clarity. The UI's online program was convenient — and it didn't hurt that the graduate library school ranks first in the country, she said.
Lambertson had received his undergraduate degree in history at North Carolina State University, then earned a master's degree in literature from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. He then worked for several years at a bike shop and a bookstore, and volunteered for a nonprofit literacy group, but wanted to get back into academia.
Both of them loved the LEEP program, especially the online classroom interactions.
"I'm a little bit shy by nature, so typing and posting and responding and taking time to think about answers is better for me. I found it more rewarding," Miller said.
Lambertson specialized in rare books and special collections and is interested in academic research libraries. He currently has an internship at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, where he's helped put rare documents online.
Miller focused on digital libraries and data curation, and recently completed an internship at the Library of Congress, where she worked with the U.S. Copyright Office on a digitization project. In the meantime, she is working in administrative support at Georgetown while they both look for more permanent library jobs.
"The adventure continues," Miller said.
10:30 a.m. Sunday, UI Assembly Hall
Graduates from the following colleges, schools and institutes: Applied Health Sciences, Law, Liberal Arts and Sciences, Media, Veterinary Medicine, Library and Information Sciences, Aviation, Labor and Employment Relations, and Social Work
2 p.m. ceremony
Graduates from the following colleges: Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, Business, Education, Engineering, and Fine and Applied Arts.
For more information about college, school and departmental ceremonies, visit online.