Commencement 2021 Theme: Wisconsin Music: Riffs from the Heartland.
Music has always played an important role in the vibrancy of Wisconsin life. The state has produced hundreds of well-known musicians and singers across every genre. Instrumental and choral music bring people together in the Ripon community and in the local public school system. Ripon College continues to make music a core part of its curriculum and its public concert series, including the annual free community concert of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. The 2020 commencement theme highlights this special bond and commitment by honoring musicians and teachers who have enriched our lives and inspired the next generation of performers.
Honorary Degree Candidate, 2021
John Harmon was born in 1935 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. He began playing piano at a young age with his mother, who played mostly by ear. She taught him the basics, and the two harmonized tunes together. His exposure to jazz came early, too, thanks in part to his father’s extensive collection of jazz records, which included recordings of such greats as Duke Ellington, Teddy Wilson, and Art Tatum. Harmon graduated from Lawrence University in 1957 with a degree in music composition. The summer after graduation, Harmon attended the first session of the Lenox School of Jazz – the legendary summer program recognized as one of the first educational programs with a jazz curriculum. Harmon studied with Oscar Peterson, whom he credits with improving his playing immensely. A widely commissioned composer, Harmon has written music for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, “The Orchestra” of Los Angeles, the Fox Valley Symphony and the Santa Fe Chamber Orchestra. His music contains elements of jazz, as well as Americana and Native American influences.
Distinguished Educator Award, 2021
Sandra Polcyn grew up in Chilton, Wisconsin and graduated from Lawrence University of a Bachelor’s degree in Music and Instrumental Education. She later received a Master’s degree from Olivet University in Curriculum Instruction. After teaching music in the Green Lake County Public School system she joined the staff of Ripon High School in 2000 and currently serves as the Band Director. She also serves as an Adjunct Instructor of Music at Ripon College, teaching courses on instrumental methods, woodwind techniques and double reed lessons. Known for her work ethic and commitment to her students, Ms. Polcyn has inspired a generation of budding Wisconsin musicians.
Founders’ Day Award, 2020 and 2021
2020 | Maria Dietrich is an experienced arts administrator and currently serves as the Interim Director of the Green Lake Festival of Music. She recently retired from the Thrasher Opera House in Green Lake, where she served since 2008, first as Development Director and then as Executive Director. She was Administrative Director of the Green Lake Festival of Music from 1991-2006. Maria is organist/pianist at the First Congregational Church of Ripon, and she operates an independent music studio in her Ripon home. She recently retired from Ripon College, where she was an adjunct instructor of music for over 20 years, teaching piano and serving as accompanist for the choirs and for musical theatre productions. She holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Lawrence University.
2021 | Fond du Lac County Health Dept. Since the pandemic hit in March 2020, the department has worked with Ripon College and the three other institutions of higher education in Fond du Lac County, K-12 schools, healthcare facilities and businesses of all sizes throughout the county to ensure that all were kept informed of current information and best practices to deal with the pandemic. The department’s 31 employees and 20 temporary contact tracers work closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health Services and Agnesian HealthCare. Department employees have direct relationships and meet regularly with Ripon College and other county partners to help them plan.
Medal of Merit, 2021
Guy Runals Henshaw ’68 and Susan Siegel Henshaw ’68 are the 2020 Medal of Merit candidates. Their commitment to Ripon College spans more than half a century of service and includes Guy’s two decades as a member of the Board of Trustees, their active engagement with the Class of 1968 and their continued contributions at the benefactor level to the college’s endowment, infrastructure improvements and the Ripon Fund. Guy and Susan live in Danville, California and have two daughters, Victoria and Christine.