Speakers and Honorees

2018 Commencement Speaker
Honorary Degree Recipient

Roald Hoffmann

Roald Hoffmann is an American theoretical chemist who won the 1981 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and is a published author of plays and poetry. He is the Frank H. T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters, Emeritus, at Cornell University.

Hoffmann was born in 1937 in Zloczow, Poland. Having survived the Nazi occupation, in 1946 he left Poland with his family and arrived in the U.S. in 1949.

He studied chemistry at Columbia University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree, and at Harvard University, where he earned his master’s degree and his doctoral degree. After receiving his doctoral degree, he remained at Harvard as a junior fellow in the Society of Fellows. He joined the Cornell University faculty in 1965.

Hoffmann is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. He has been elected a foreign member of the Royal Society, the Indian National Science Academy, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters, the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Nordrhein-Westfällische Academy of Sciences, and the Leopoldina.

He has received numerous honors—including more than 25 honorary degrees—and is the only person ever to have received the American Chemical Society’s awards in three different specific subfields of chemistry: the A. C. Cope Award in Organic Chemistry; the Award in Inorganic Chemistry; and the Pimentel Award in Chemical Education.

In 1981, he shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Kenichi Fukui for their theories, developed independently, concerning the course of chemical reactions. Hoffmann characterizes his particular blend of computations stimulated by experiment and the construction of generalized models as “applied theoretical chemistry.”

As a writer, Hoffmann explores science, poetry and philosophy through many of his works. He began writing poetry in the mid-1970s, eventually publishing the first of a number of collections, The Metamict State (1987), followed by Gaps and Verges (1990), Memory Effects (1999), Soliton (2002), and a volume of poems translated into Spanish entitled Catalista.

He has also co-written a play with fellow chemist Carl Djerassi, Oxygen, which has been performed worldwide and translated into 10 languages. A second play, Should’ve, had its initial workshop production in Edmonton, Canada, in 2006.

2018 Baccalaureate Speaker
Honorary Degree Recipient

Shaundra Cunningham

Shaundra Cunningham is an ordained Baptist minister who received her master’s degree in divinity from Harvard Divinity School.  She is currently pursuing her doctoral degree in geography at the University of Tennessee. 

As a doctoral student, Cunningham is interested in geographies of religion and spirituality, with a particular fondness for cultural landscapes of the American South.  She is also interested in exploring the intersection of theology, gender and culture.

Cunningham serves as one of three chaplains to Echoing Green fellows, an international cohort of social entrepreneurs who each run their own change agent organization.  Additionally, she’s a chaplain to the J.M. Kaplan Fund Social Innovation Prize, which supports social entrepreneurs across the United States who are spearheading game-changing solutions to society’s most urgent challenges. 

For seven years, she was a hospital chaplain, serving primarily in the medical intensive care units at the Cleveland Clinic and most recently at Swedish Hospital in Seattle.

Cunningham says she takes delight in emphasizing the festivity and joy of religiosity.  She is inspired by one of her favorite quotes by Nietzsche, “I would believe only in a God that knows how to dance,” and by the words of American theologian Peter Gomes, by committing to doing ministry with both mind and heart. 

The niece of the late Rev. Charles Rice, Ursinus College’s longtime chaplain, Cunningham comes from a military family and calls Columbia, S.C., her home.