Stanford announces first Hindu Baccalaureate speaker

Varun Soni, dean of religious and spiritual life at the University of Southern California, was named the keynote speaker for the 2024 Baccalaureate ceremonies on June 15.

An annual celebration hosted by the Office for Religious & Spiritual Life (ORSL), baccalaureate hopes to “acknowledge the spiritual contribution to the education of the whole person.” The event will also include readings from graduates and performances from Talisman and Taiko.

Soni is the first Hindu to serve as the chief religious or spiritual leader on a U.S. college campus, according to the Stanford Report. He is also the first Hindu to deliver the Baccalaureate address at Stanford.

“I am honored and excited to join graduating students at Stanford University as they celebrate their many accomplishments and as they think deeply about how to translate and transform their profound gifts, talents, and stories into wisdom and action for the world,” Soni said to the Stanford Report. “And so, I very much look forward to gathering as a spiritual community at a time when we all need it most.”

Soni’s resume boasts five degrees, including a B.A. in religion from Tufts University, an M.T.S. from the Harvard Divinity School, an M.A. from the University of California, Santa Barbara, a J.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles and a Ph.D. from the University of Cape Town. 

ORSL Dean Tiffany Steinwert told the Stanford Report that Soni’s “commitment to religious diversity and spiritual wellness” has been “transformational for college campuses across the country.”

“Placing community and belonging at the heart of spiritual life, and the university itself, Soni has explored new ways in which higher education can support students as they create lives of meaning and purpose,” Steinwert said.

Soni is the author of “Natural Mystics: The Prophetic Lives of Bob Marley and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan,” and his work has appeared in the Washington Post, Huffington Post and Jewish Journal.

The ORSL is holding a speech contest for a Class of 2024 student to speak on the class’s experience, which they described as “singularly marked with social detriment during the formative experience that was our first-year transition from adolescence to independent college adulthood.”

The Baccalaureate celebration will be held from 10 to 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 15, in Frost Amphitheater. Philanthropist and businesswoman Melinda French Gates will deliver the 2024 Commencement address on Saturday, June 16.