FORT LEE, Va. (May 22, 2013) -- Question the idea of even having a preschool graduation and Marjorie Cleveland would politely offer a rebuttal.

"This is the foundation," said the Multi-Program Child Development Center facility director. "This is where everything starts. I believe that how you start something is how you're going to end it."

Cleveland was discussing, rather passionately, the importance of the Strong Beginnings preschool graduation that took place at the MP CDC Friday. The graduations, which have taken place since 2009, are traditional ceremonies that feature cap and gowns, guest speakers, music and of course, diploma presentations. Cleveland said a big splash of an event is intended.

"If you have a lot of enthusiasm; show them that this is the beginning of whom they're going to be," she said, "it trickles down and trickles up -- everything that is put into them will show in the end."

Twenty students walked to the tune of "Pomp and Circumstance" during the morning ceremony. A crowd of roughly 50 parents, siblings, relatives and others were present for the event that included several Soldiers in uniform who found time in their schedules to attend.

One of them, Sgt. 1st Class Cameron Gardehl, was delighted to be present in support of his daughter, Amelia. He made a point to say that he couldn't miss it in light of all the other events he has due to military obligations.

"So often, we're not available to be at everything that matters to our kids," said the Romeo Company, 262nd Quartermaster Battalion Soldier. "So we need to strive to be at every event we can make it to."

While some were making up for lost time, others saw the event as a milestone in the lives of their children. Staff Sgt. Leonardo Amezola said it was so for his daughter, Sariah.

"It's a great opportunity to see her progress in life," said the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, CASCOM Soldier. "It's her first graduation, and it's something that helps them get accustomed to school. You can't ask for anything better than this."

Kate Lallemand, a special visitor to the event, thought so as well. Travelling from Pennsylvania to see her great-granddaughter, Ginger McCulley, receive her diploma, she and several other relatives sat just behind the would-be graduates with prideful expressions.

"I thought it was a terrific ceremony," she said. "Those kids did a great job."
Throughout the ceremony, Cleveland was herself beaming like a proud parent. She said her expressions were the culmination of a year's work with the children and their progress through it all.

"I'm proud of this group," she said. "It did touch me. This is my first year being the director here in this program for Strong Beginnings even though I've done this in the past. This was a proud moment. I had a proud director and mom moment at the same time because I treat them all as my children as well."