Shaundra Cunningham, an ordained Baptist minister who received her master’s degree in divinity from Harvard Divinity School, delivered the keynote speech during the ceremony. She is the niece of the late Rev. Charles Rice, Ursinus College’s longtime chaplain, who passed away in April 2017.
“I don’t care where or how you grew up, each of you is a precious gift from god,” she said, drawing upon a theme of family and genealogy in her remarks. “There will never be another you—divinity ordered the stars, parted the skies, numbered the hairs upon your head, and emphatically said, ‘Let there be,’ when she created you.”
She challenged the students to think about of the people who have made a difference in their lives.
“Recall the people who helped shape and form you; the names of the ones who birthed you as well as the names of people who birthed something in you. From family to faculty to friends to the strangers who smiled just when you needed it most, see the faces. May you find peace from the ancestors on your tree. May the names comfort you, embolden you, give you life, and renew your spirits.
Cunningham is pursuing her doctoral degree in geography at the University of Tennessee. She 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.
“You’re inheriting a world in dire need of ambassadors of light,” she told the graduates. “Whatever your discipline and interests, we need more freedom fighters, which implies you’re willing to put some skin in the game to fight racism, classism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia, able-bodiedness, and push back against xenophobia.”
Student speakers included Ben Allwein ’18, Rachael Carter ’18, Callie Terris ’18 and Temi Olafunmiloye ’18.
President Brock Blomberg asked the students to recall when they gathered in Bomberger Auditorium for the first time as a class during convocation before their first semester at Ursinus.
“It was then that you began a journey together that has led you to this important milestone in your lives,” Blomberg told the graduates. “You may have not known it then, but now, on the eve of your commencement, you have come to learn that at Ursinus, you develop more than a set of sophisticated skills and competitive credentials. You became independent, responsible, and thoughtful individuals.” —By Ed Moorhouse