Varun Soni, dean of religious and spiritual life at the University of Southern California, will be the keynote speaker for Stanford’s 2024 Baccalaureate celebration. (Image credit: Daniel Park)

Varun Soni, an interfaith leader who is the first Hindu to serve as the lead chaplain on a U.S. college campus, will be the keynote speaker for Stanford’s 2024 Baccalaureate celebration in June.

Dean of religious and spiritual life at the University of Southern California, Soni will speak during the celebratory event for graduates, family members, and other guests on Saturday morning, June 15, at Frost Amphitheater. Commencement ceremonies will follow on Sunday, June 16.

Soni, who also served as USC’s inaugural vice provost of campus wellness and crisis intervention, became the first Hindu to be chief religious or spiritual leader of a college or university in American history in 2008. He holds a BA in religion from Tufts University, MTS from Harvard Divinity School, MA from the University of California, Santa Barbara, JD from the University of California, Los Angeles, and PhD from the University of Cape Town.

“Dean Soni’s commitment to religious diversity and spiritual wellness has been transformational for college campuses across the country,” said Tiffany Steinwert, dean for religious and spiritual life at Stanford. “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.”

Baccalaureate is a student-led celebration with readings, prayers, and lively music reflecting the wide range of religious traditions in the Stanford community. The Office for Religious & Spiritual Life is conducting a contest to select an undergraduate student speaker who will address their classmates during the service. (Submissions of up to 600 words are due April 28.)

Soni was born in India and raised in the U.S., and he has family members on five continents – who together represent every major religious tradition on the globe. As an undergraduate, he spent a semester living in a Buddhist monastery in Bodh Gaya, India, and, as a graduate student, spent months doing field research in South Asia. He is the author of Natural Mystics: The Prophetic Lives of Bob Marley and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

“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. I am also humbled to be the first Hindu to offer the Baccalaureate address at Stanford,” Soni said. “And so, I very much look forward to gathering as a spiritual community at a time when we all need it most.”

Stanford’s Baccalaureate celebration will be from 10 to 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 15, in Frost Amphitheater. Details for the student speaker contest are available on the Baccalaureate web page. On Sunday, June 16, businesswoman and philanthropist Melinda French Gates will deliver the Commencement address in Stanford Stadium. Additional details are available on the Commencement Weekend website.