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Marisa Kelly formally installed as Suffolk University’s president

Suffolk University’s president Marisa Kelly is greeted by a fellow staff member during Friday’s ceremony.
Suffolk University’s president Marisa Kelly is greeted by a fellow staff member during Friday’s ceremony.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Suffolk University formally installed Marisa Kelly as its 11th president Friday, in a ceremony that renewed the downtown college’s commitment to helping students climb the socioeconomic ladder.

In Kelly, Suffolk has tapped an insider who has made progress in calming tension over leadership and direction on the campus in recent years. She served as provost and acting president before being named the permanent leader in March.

She recalled how her father, a music instructor, and her mother, a legal secretary, had motivated her.

“My parents instilled in me the value of education, and the importance of diversity and inclusion,” Kelly said during Friday’s inauguration, held at Tremont Temple.

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“We know how to support students who come from diverse backgrounds, including those who come from lower socioeconomic rankings,” Kelly said. “And we have shown we know how to move them up that ladder.”

She highlighted Suffolk’s record of enrolling and graduating students from low-income families. But she acknowledged the challenges of paying for and completing a degree, and families’ concerns about the return of investment on a college education.

Annual tuition at Suffolk is $37,000, and the cost with room and board is $55,000. Total enrollment is just under 8,000 students.

“The value of higher education is indisputable,” Kelly said. “And for many Suffolk students, it is literally life changing.”

Under Kelly’s leadership, the university has risen in some college rankings. It made Washington Monthly’s top 100 list of universities for their positive impact on the country.

Kelly takes over following a period of volatility for Suffolk, which was beset by high turnover in presidents after longtime leader David Sargent retired in 2010.

In 2016, the school’s board publicly battled with the previous president, Margaret McKenna, even leveling accusations of financial mismanagement, which were later proven to be unfounded.

State and university officials painted Kelly as a go-getter, locked in on a set of goals she’s already working towards.

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Kelly said the university plans to bolster its experiential learning programs, international education, and interdisciplinary programs. She added that the university will also expand online certificates to keep up with the labor market, and explore a programs that teach students emotional intelligence and human interaction.

“No student will graduate unprepared for the world,” she said.

US Senator Ed Markey, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, and Suffolk law alumni House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Supreme Judicial Court Justice Elspeth Cypher, were among the dignitaries at the ceremony.

“Suffolk has graduated some of the city’s most influential people,” Walsh said.

The mayor highlighted the university’s partnerships with the city, such as scholarships and college readiness programs for Boston Public School students, its work with the Fair Housing Commission, and the law school’s free legal advice to the state’s Office of Immigrant Advancement.

DeLeo underlined the university’s emphasis in careers in government, nonprofits, and social services. “This university uniquely promotes civic duty,” he said.

Markey, a first-generation college graduate, commended Suffolk’s commitment to making higher education accessible. He called on leaders in the field to lower the costs of obtaining a college degree.

“Today there are roadblocks to achieving a college education,” Markey said. “We have to help students to make it possible for them to achieve.”


Morgan Hughes can be reached at morgan.hughes@globe.com.