FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Fifteen years ago, Pablo Aviles promised himself he would earn a college degree. After years of study at American Military University, Aviles walked across the stage at McMahon Auditorium Nov. 1 in a ceremonial graduation.

"I hope that I am an inspiration for my kids," said Aviles, a staff sergeant with 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division. "I did it after so many years. They can do it sooner than I did, that's my goal for them."

Aviles and 32 other college graduates participated in the first Fort Carson Graduation Ceremony, hosted by the Education Center.

"This is for Soldiers who did not have the opportunity to be honored and recognized for their hard work," said Skip Blancett, education services officer.

"Many attended colleges in different states or were deployed and couldn't attend their ceremony," said Angela Rodriguez, director of college programs. "This is a great way to recognize them."

Maj. Gen. Joseph Anderson, commanding general, 4th Inf. Div. and Fort Carson, served as the commencement speaker.

"Education is important in our business," he said. "Each of you will walk across the stage knowing you did something extraordinary."

Anderson implored graduates not to view their degrees as the end of their education, but the beginning.

"The degree you hold is not a reward, but an opportunity," he said. "I challenge you to go forward boldly. This is your time in history. Don't waste it."

Graduates from 19 educational institutions, earning associate, bachelor's and master's degrees, walked across the stage. Representatives from some of the institutions traveled to Fort Carson to award the degrees in person.

"It feels like we're attending a true graduation," said Marius C. Herlea, a veteran who earned his bachelor's in business management from University of Phoenix.

"It took me almost nine years. It's hard work. Hopefully I've set a good example for my children."

Sgt. 1st Class James Taylor, 704th Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Inf. Div., earned his master's in adult education from Trident University International, graduating summa cum laude.

"We're very proud of him," said Michelle Taylor, James Taylor's wife. "It took him about 15 years to earn his bachelor's and master's."

Meilia Taylor said she was proud of her father.

"I want to go to college," said Meilia, 7.

Spc. Betty Piquion, 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 2nd BCT, 4th Inf. Div., earned her bachelor's degree in psychology from Long Island University. She walked across the stage to cheers from supporters in her unit.

"It was great," she said. "My first sergeant and lieutenant came to support me."

"I'm glad for her," said 1st Sgt. Gilbert Navarro, 2nd Bn., 8th Inf. Reg. "Education is very important."

The ceremony also recognized 2nd Lt. Abdulla Arif Mizead, the Education Soldier of the Quarter.

"It's a big deal for me," said Mizead, an Iraqi native who earned his master's in literature from Baghdad University. "It means a lot."

Mizead said the honor not only recognized him, but his wife, Raghad Alwazzan, who has supported him throughout his education.

"She put her career on hold for me," said Mizead. "She understood what I wanted and I'm hoping now I can give her back (support)."

"I'm so proud of him," said Alwazzan. "I can see my dreams come true with him."