New Ripon College graduates urged to take sense of community out into the world

The Ripon College Class of 2022 celebrated the 156th Commencement ceremony at Ripon College on a picture-perfect day Sunday afternoon. The new graduates came together with joy, spirit and pride to celebrate a traditional ceremony after cancellations and modifications of the event during the pandemic.

The theme was “The Stories We Tell: Connecting to Our Community through Theatre.” A full video of the Commencement ceremony can be viewed at

Honorees included:

  • Brenda DeVita, artistic director at American Players Theatre, outside of Spring Green, Wisconsin. She received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree.
  • Anne Negri Lewinthal, Ripon College Class of 2003, a drama specialist in District 65 Evanston-Skokie public schools in Illinois and an award-winning playwright for young audiences. She received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree.
  • Dr. Jeanne Lyke, a Ripon pediatrician who also has served as chair of the Green Lake County Health Advisory Committee and as medical advisor for the Ripon Area School District. She received the 2022 Founders’ Day Award.
  • Jordan Pollard of West Allis, Wisconsin, who received the Distinguished Educator Award. He is a fourth- and fifth-grade educator at Franklin Elementary School in West Allis and a member of the theatre directing staff for the West Allis School District.

DeVita said that theatre and story-telling build community. “There are studies that prove that after food, drink and shelter, the next most important thing necessary for a human being to survive is connection,” she said. “Community gets us through those challenging situations. Alone is a very hard place to be.”

As the graduates go out into the world, she said, they need to be true to their authentic selves. “Your first job is figuring how to build you,” she said. “When you take risks and express yourself and your ideas, and when you feel seen and accepted for that, anything feels possible in that moment. And anything is.”

She said confidence comes from “a deep knowledge of what is true about themselves, owning that truth and being proud of it. Spend the time to actually contemplate what you know you’re good at, admit what you know you’re bad at and what is worthy about you. There’s always something worthy. You are enough. … Then you can begin to own who you are, and then you can begin to own who you want to become.”

She added, “Everybody’s afraid they’re not remarkable, but they can be. This journey of authenticity together is a sacred space and that’s what community is for. Community is that safety net that will catch you when you make mistakes.

“The world out there needs all of you. They need the real you, they need the true you. I hope you can really love your lives and that comes from loving yourself and each other. … If you stay present and open, it will be remarkable.”

The student class speaker was Sarah Elizabeth King of Superior, Wisconsin.

Interim President Andrea Young urged the graduates to remember the things that make Ripon College so special — its unique spaces, people and legacies.

“It may be too soon for you to be able to picture what your Ripon College legacy will be,” she said. “For the last four years, you have woven your threads into Ripon’s rich tapestry as well. Believe me when I say that you are now part of a community that extends well beyond the people gathered here today. It includes the alumni who came before you — and those who are yet to be part of the Ripon experience. …

“Part of your legacy will be what you do next with the excellent education, the life-changing experience, you have had here. You have the opportunity, now, to go into this world and make a difference. Live a purpose-driven life. Make the changes that need making. … And those contributions you make in your communities and in the world — well, they will add to the Ripon legacy, as have the contributions of generations of alumni before you.”

(Photo: Brenda DeVita)

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Brenda DeVita speaking at Commencement