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BRIDGEWATER — The photo of 8-year-old Martin Richard — hair unkempt, teeth missing, and holding a homemade sign — entranced the nation in 2013, after he was killed in the Boston Marathon bombings.

"No more hurting people. Peace," the sign reads, words bookended by hearts.

It was a symbol of youthful innocence and one of the lasting images of the Boston Strong movement. And now at Bridgewater State University, that photo, and Martin Richard, will be forever etched in bronze.

Hundreds attended the dedication Saturday of a life-sized sculpture of Martin, including Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Angela Menino, the widow of Thomas M. Menino, Walsh's predecessor.

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Bridgewater State, the college Martin's parents attended, also named its social justice institute in honor of the boy.

Martin Richard.
Martin Richard.European Press Agency/File

The Martin Richard Institute for Social Justice will provide some 1,000 middle and high school students access to summer residential programs, tutoring, and job skills training each year. The institute also coordinates community service trips of college students to Belize and Cambodia.

Bill Richard, Martin's father, represented the family during the dedication ceremony.

Bill and Denise Richard, Martin's parents, were joined on stage after the unveiling by Martin's siblings, Henry and Jane.

"Even with everything we endured, 'A statue for Martin? No way,' we thought,' " Bill Richard said, adding that he thought statues were reserved for historical icons.

Richard's speech, which moved many in the audience to tears, focused on the applicable lessons from his son's short life.

On the day he died, Martin Richard scrounged his pocket change from his mother's coffee purchase and offered the money to a man who was begging, Bill Richard said.

The message of the sculpture, according to Richard and the artist, Victoria Guerina, is to choose kindness.

"One of the many challenges for me has been the loss of the unknown, losing the privilege of a father seeing his son grow up," Richard said, before telling stories of Martin's wit, self-assured personality, and love for the number eight.

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"But I find some peace in trusting I already know the kind of man Martin would be: a handsome, generous, and kind soul," he said.

The sculpture captures Martin stepping forward, holding his sign for peace.

The sculpture of Martin Richard after it was unveiled.
The sculpture of Martin Richard after it was unveiled.Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Guerina began molding the figure six months ago, but first e-mailed the idea to the Richard family in 2013.

"I worked from photographs and stories that Bill and Denise provided to express Martin's spirit and charm," Guerina said.

"He is stepping forward to meet us and share his message, with the bright smile that seemed to be such a part of his personality."

Walsh was the first speaker to give remarks.

"The programs and ideals developed [at the institute] will make the world a better place in ways we don't even know yet. We do know it is a day to reflect on the spark of joy and the love of peace in one little boy," Walsh said.

The mayor said he once met Martin at a chili cookoff in Boston, and he remembered the boy's bubbly personality.

Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito issued a proclamation commemorating the ceremony, but did not attend.

Dana Mohler-Faria, president emeritus of Bridgewater State, did not know the Richard family before the Marathon bombings. But upon hearing of the family's story, the university and alumni community quickly reached out, he said.

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"This sculpture has been placed at a crossroads for our students," Mohel-Faria said. "It is symbolic, and our hope is that those who pause and read the plaque will be inspired to make the right decisions."

Mohler-Faria and Fred Clark Jr., university president, urged audience members and university students to embody Martin's message of peace through a public pledge.

That pledge asks individuals to promise specific actions to improve the other's lives.

To conclude the ceremony, Grammy Award nominee Linda Chorney performed a medley of a song she wrote as a tribute to Martin Richard and "We Shall Overcome," the anthem of nonviolent protesters during the civil rights movement.

"Boston will remember you! You are the face of Boston Strong!" she sang.

To her right, that face gleamed in bronze, full of life.

Martin Richard, forever 8.

Friends of the Richard family at the dedication ceremony.
Friends of the Richard family at the dedication ceremony.Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Astead W. Herndon can be reached at astead.herndon@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @AsteadWH.