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Nobel Prize Winner to Deliver Commencement Address

Roald Hoffmann, a theoretical chemist, poet and writer, will address 377 Ursinus graduates during the college’s 145th commencement on May 12.

He will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. The ceremony begins at 10 a.m. on the lawn outside the Berman Museum.

Hoffmann won the 1981 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Kenichi Fukui for their theories—developed independently—concerning the course of chemical reactions. He 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 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. He joined the Cornell University faculty in 1965 and is the Frank H. T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters, Emeritus, at Cornell.

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.

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 Baccalaureate program precedes commencement at on Friday, May 11, at 5 p.m. in Bomberger Auditorium as part of a treasured Ursinus tradition where graduates gather as a class for one last time for songs and readings that represent the many faith traditions of the student body.

Shaundra Cunningham, an ordained Baptist minister who received her master’s degree in divinity from Harvard Divinity School, will deliver the keynote speech during the Baccalaureate program. She is currently pursuing her doctoral degree in geography at the University of Tennessee. 

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. 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.

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.