First Rutledge Preschoolers Graduate

Aug 09, 2019

They are the first to earn "diplomas" from the Karen and Tom Rutledge Institute for Early Childhood Education preschool.

  • - President Jones congratulates Carter Fitzpatrick.

  • - Carter Fitzpatrick and Rutledge Scholar Alexis Glena.

  • - Scholars Erin Sassak (left) and Grace Pinto with Amora Grillo.

  • - Nakai Nichols waves to his family.

  • - Cherie Sears, President Jones, Lauren Perry and Ashley Roth with Niharika Agarwal, Carter Fitzpatrick, Amora Grillo, Nakai Nichols and Leila Rbaibi.


Nattily attired in their red caps and gowns with white hoods, five excited youngsters received “diplomas” from Cal U President Geraldine M. Jones as the first graduating class from the Karen and Tom Rutledge Institute for Early Childhood Education preschool.

The Institute supports an innovative preschool learning program for children ages 3-5. The on-campus education center is staffed by teachers from The Village, an accredited early childhood education center in downtown California, Pa. 

Cherie Sears, president of The Village, director of the Rutledge Institute Preschool Program and a Cal U alumna, welcomed the audience on Aug. 9 and thanked the graduates for making the Institute such a special place. 

“They are ready for school academically and socially, and have also been taught to give to others and share that spirit,” she said. “This first year has been very successful, and we are very excited moving into the fall.” 

President Jones told the graduates how impressed she was with the encouragement they offered to the adult speakers during the ceremony. 

“You show why so many good things are going on here, and this is the first of many graduation ceremonies you will be part of,” she said. “Hopefully, one of your graduations will be as students here at California University. 

“But today you are all part of the inaugural Rutledge Institute graduation class and have such bright futures ahead of you.” 

Lauren Perry ´19, who served as the Pre-K lead teacher, was visibly moved when she spoke about the memorable moments. 

“Every single day I am left with a memory of you, and every day we leave with a smile and hug and then start the next day the same way,” she said. “In the few months I have been here, this has impacted me in such a special way, and we’re all truly blessed to be part of this.”

After the graduates received their diplomas, Ashley Roth ´10, ´12, assistant director of the Rutledge Institute and an instructor in Cal U’s Department of Childhood Education, had them move their tassels from right to left. 

The first graduating class consisted of Niharika Agarwal, Carter Fitzpatrick, Amora Grillo, Nakai Nichols, Leila Rbaibi, and Lachlan Johnson, who was unable to attend. 

Amanda Rbaibi, Leila’s mother, said the experience was great for her daughter. 

“She has learned so much, and I am overjoyed with her experience here,” said Amanda Rbaibi. “Leila loves her classmates and teachers, and she always comes home with stories of how much fun she’s having." 

The Rutledge Institute funds annual scholarships for up to 20 local children, ages 3-5, to attend the preschool program. 

It also pays tuition, fees and room costs for Rutledge Scholars, a select group of highly qualified students who enroll in Cal U's childhood education program. 

The full-time learning program runs Monday through Friday, year-round, in a dedicated facility on Cal U’s campus.

For information, applications and more details about the Rutledge Institute, visit