Ripon College Class of 2021 comes back together for in-person Commencement ceremony

After a year of uncertainty, a cancelled 2020 Commencement ceremony and many adaptations to campus life, the Ripon College Class of 2021 came together Sunday, May 16, with joy, spirit and pride to celebrate at a modified but in-person Commencement ceremony.

The theme was “Wisconsin Music: Riffs from the Heartland,” honoring the significant musical heritage of the state. A full video of the Commencement ceremony can be viewed at

Honorees included:

  • John Harmon of Winneconne, Wisconsin, a widely acclaimed composer, jazz pianist and music educator, received an honorary degree.
  • The 2020 Founders’ Day Award was presented to Maria Dietrich of Ripon, Wisconsin, a longtime community arts administrator and a retired adjunct instructor of piano at Ripon College. The 2021 award recognized regional partner the Fond du Lac County Health Department.
  • Sandra Polcyn of Ripon, Wisconsin, received the Distinguished Educator Award. She is the band director at Ripon High School and an adjunct instructor of music at Ripon College.
  • Longtime supporters Guy Runals Henshaw ’68 and Susan Siegel Henshaw ’68 of Danville, California, received the College’s Medal of Merit.

During his address, Harmon said, “It’s an overwhelming honor, but the real stars of this show are sitting right over here,” indicating the graduates. “You guys are the ones, especially under the circumstances (under which) you had to operate.”

He reflected on his years as a composer and musician and shared words of wisdom he has followed: “If you love what you’re doing, there is nothing that inhibits you,” he said. And a friend once told him, when things are daunting and progress seems slow, “Never look at how much is left to do,” Harmon said. “Only look at what you’re doing and ‘do it good.’”

Student class speakers were Dakota Marlega of Waupaca, Wisconsin, and Noah Fish of Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin.

President Zach Messitte told the graduates that with the passage of time, we may not remember so much the difficulties of a year in pandemic, but “more about the success you achieved in the classroom, relationships you’ve built with professors and staff, friendships, successes. … You have grown and benefited from working with us, but each of us are better because of each of you.”

He concluded, “Today we celebrate your past and your future. It is important as the years pass for you to remember Ripon College. It’s said that to make people happy is one of the greatest things you can ever do. There is much to be happy about today. We won’t forget you. Don’t forget Ripon.”
(Photo: John Harmon)

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