2018 Inauguration Speech
President Marisa Kelly was inaugurated as Suffolk University's 11 president on October 12, 2018. The transcribed speech can be found below.
Thank you. As I stand here today I am exceedingly hopeful and optimistic about the future of this University. How can I not be optimistic when I am fortunate to work in a setting where I walk in each day and see the future in front of me. Every day I see the seeds of possibility and potential in our students. It starts each morning in the elevators. And yes, we are known for our elevators. Depending upon the time of day and the time of year, you might have to wait more than a couple of minutes to get one. From September to May, they can be a bit crowded. But the doors open, and the elevators are alive with a mix of hopefulness and trepidation, uncertainty and confidence, energy and optimism. It's really not all that unlike the emotions one feels when one becomes president of a university. It is a combination of all those things - but for me - mostly hope and optimism. The genuine enthusiasm that our students have for their educational experience here - and the drive, the energy, the relentlessness, the creativity and joy that they bring to their endeavors is life affirming and renewing, and I am grateful to be a part of it.
Senator Markey, Mayor Walsh, Speaker Deleo, Justice Cypher, trustees, faculty, staff, alumni, students and guests, thank you for being here to celebrate, and to the Board of Trustees and the whole community, thank you for giving me the privilege of leading this institution. And there are others I want to thank as well. To my mentors and collaborators, Professor Paul Shumaker and Steven Maynard-Moody, thank you. I learned so much from you and with you. To those who had such an influence on me in the early years of my career especially my friend and faculty colleague, Gene Pearson, Provost Philip Gilbertson, and President Donald DeRosa. I know I apply each day lessons learned from all of you, first when I was a faculty leader, and later in my first administrative position as an associate dean. For those lessons you have my heartfelt appreciation.
But the lessons that probably influenced me the most are all those that I learned from my family. I grew up in a large, wonderful, Italian-Portuguese family. Not Irish, sorry Boston. My father, Rudy Tapiro, was a musician and elementary school teacher in the urban school district of Oakland, California. He was exceptionally dedicated to his students, and he believed deeply in his teaching mission. I woke up every Saturday morning to the distinctive notes of clarinets coming from "the music room" as my father taught private lessons. He didn't teach just music. He spent as much time mentoring his students, and talking about life and helping them see possibilities. On occasion, he took me with him to his school, so I had the chance to see him work there, too, and I was even lucky enough to play the violin in his elementary school orchestra once in a while. Most of his students did not come from means, and he always made sure they had access to instruments, because he believed in the power of music and the power of education.
It wasn't until years later that I realized the impact of my father's commitment to teaching, the impact that it had had on me. As I was pursuing my PhD, advisers pushed me towards large research-oriented universities. But for some reason, I kept finding myself drawn to places that focused on teaching. I eventually realized that it was the influence of my father and his belief in the power of teaching and mentoring that led me on my path towards student-focused education and ultimately to Suffolk University. It was also my mother's influence. A former legal secretary, my mother, Carmel Sousa Tapiro, devoted herself to raising her six children. She was in fact the strong core of our family. And when as a young adult I struggled with career decisions that moved me geographically from my home state, and it was my mother insisting I always reach for the brass ring (she really loved merry-go-rounds) that ultimately helped me to spread my wings. To this day I have an antique brass ring from an old merry-go-round sitting on my dresser next to her picture.
My parents, who we lost a few years ago, instilled in me an understanding of the importance of education, a sense of respect for all human beings, a commitment to diversity and inclusion, and they helped me to know that taking the high road is always the best path in life. And that large family, my brothers and sisters, some of whom are here today, my cousins and my aunts and uncles taught me how to disagree passionately - and this is an Italian-Portuguese family, come on, right? - with someone, even argue with someone, usually around the dinner table, probably over a large plate of pasta, but then laugh with that person the next minute, and that, that may have been the most important lesson of all, one that I know helps me to do my job each and every single day. So thank you to my family, my parents, and their whole generation, represented here today by the last of my father's siblings, my wonder Aunt Flora Decker, for all that they taught me.
And finally, I want to say to my wife Margie, our sons, Jack and Sam, as well as our nephew Joseph who is so much a part of our lives, your support and confidence in me means the world, ... and Margie, I thank you for deciding to be a visible part of the Suffolk community, abandoning the competition to be a volunteer engaging with Suffolk students and alumni helping us to advance our mission.
And it is an important mission.
Since the Great Recession a decade ago, we have seen growing skepticism about the value of a college degree. As you know, there are legitimate concerns about affordability and student indebtedness, exacerbated by real economic challenges facing families across the country. Parents and students want to know if the return on the investment will be worth the cost of a college degree. Polls show many Americans believe universities are partisan and left-leaning. And while most Americans still believe in the value of higher education, significant swaths do not, and growing numbers of those under the age of 50 are less convinced that it's worth the cost.
At a time when there is doubt and cynicism about the worthiness of a college degree, I will not mince words. The value of higher education is indisputable, and for many Suffolk students, it is literally life changing. We are a university with massive transformative purpose. We are an engine of social mobility, or to continue the elevator metaphor, upward vertical mobility. That has been true since our founding and continues to be so today.
The data support this claim. A broad study of the role of colleges and universities in inter-generational mobility showed that Suffolk ranked eighth out of 76 colleges and universities in Massachusetts on an overall mobility index, which measures the likelihood that a student moved up two or more income quintiles. In short, we are lifting people up.
We have a strong track record of enrolling and ultimately graduating students from low income families. We have a substantial percentage of students who receive federal needs-based Pell Grants for low-income undergraduates, and we graduate those students at significantly higher rates than the national average. Those students go on to get good jobs and attend graduate school and launch successful careers. They become leaders in business and government, and education, the law, the nonprofit sector and in many other arenas, often right here in Boston, but also around the nation and the world.
In its 2018 rankings of colleges and universities, the Washington Monthly ranked Suffolk among the top 100 national universities. What makes this ranking particularly noteworthy for me - aside from the fact that we jumped 142 places since last year, and yes, I said 142 - what makes this ranking so meaningful is that unlike many rankings, the Washington Monthly rankings look at what colleges and universities are doing for the PUBLIC GOOD in a number of areas, including social mobility and civic engagement. In other words, these rankings are based on things that matter the most to Suffolk University, TO US.
Now we have many people with us today representing other great colleges and universities, and I want to be clear that the value of higher education - the upward mobility and the positive difference that we make in the lives of students - applies to all of us. Suffolk has no monopoly on lifting up lives. But we are an outstanding example of an educational engine that empowers students from all walks of life. We know how to support students who come from diverse backgrounds, including those who may come from the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder, and we have shown we are able to move them up that ladder as a result of the experience they get here. As we have since our founding in 1906, we are providing transformational pathways of opportunity for our students, and THAT is why we come to work each day. That is why I come to work each day.
Yes, we are committed to this mission, and we deliver. But in five years, in ten years, in twenty years, we must be even better at it. We want to continue to deliver those transformative experiences to even broader populations from across the nation and around the world, even as we continue to serve students from the City of Boston and the region, including ensuring that we serve even more members of this city's racially diverse population.
This is our moment to take our historic strength in empowering students and expand on it; to look at where we can make the greatest difference and invest in it. What do we need to do to continue transforming students' lives, to help ensure they can fulfill their personal and professional dreams in a rapidly changing environment? First, we must build on our strength in experiential education. This has always been central to our educational model, which now more than ever responds to the ways that students want to learn and fosters in them the skills and sensibilities that employers expect.
So we will reimagine and expand our career services operation, that it becomes a centerpiece of the University and further serves the students and our alumni. We will invest in building out a career services operation that touches every part of the University and is integrated with our academic offerings. We will approach career development in a comprehensive manner, partnering with our schools, programs and faculty, and providing the support and resources needed to help students and alumni navigate career paths that we know going forward will be anything but linear. And as the world around us changes, we know our alumni will need to expand their skills to keep pace with the shifts in their professions or to pursue whole new opportunities, either in mid-career, or upon retirement - their so-called encore careers. As part of our commitment to our alumni over the course of their lives, we will explore the development of a whole slate of concentrated and largely online certificates that will respond to their needs and their interests, and which will continue to evolve as the world does, because when you come here as a student, we must be committed to you as a member of the community for the rest of your life.
Yes, successful career outcomes matter to us. And we know that in a decade's time, many, if not a majority of the jobs that exist today, will no longer. Our ability to prepare students for a world where artificial intelligence has dramatically altered the job market will be critical. Consider this. The world's first 3-D printed homes have now been built. To reference just one application, a non-profit is slated to soon build 100 homes for those in need of shelter in El Salvador using 3-D printing. The cost per home is reported to be approximately $4,000, and each home can be completed in just a couple of days. This technology can also build lower cost large luxury homes as well. Can you imagine how this will change the job of an architect and all who are involved in this industry? As machines perform more tasks that were once done by people, employability and career advancement in many cases will depend not only on quantitative and critical thinking skills among others, but increasingly on the strength of those skills once considered "soft" but increasingly understood to be "power skills": interpersonal and communication skills, adaptability, collaboration, creativity, and emotional intelligence. Suffolk University is well positioned for these fundamental changes based on who we are and what we do. Our pedagogical approach -- the way that we teach - is experience based. That is true across every degree program and in each of our three schools. Experiential learning helps to foster the power skills that are critical in a world where jobs are increasingly being lost to artificial intelligence. In other words, we foster the skills of human interaction.
But we must do more. As another focus of our planning work this year, I'm calling on our faculty and student affairs professionals to explore how to further build a program of emotional intelligence and human interaction across the curriculum with intentionality so that no student graduates unprepared for the world, a world where success, no matter how they choose to define it, requires all of us to be able to employ the power skills of human interaction.
And that includes the ability to negotiate difference. Our students must be able to operate in a diverse and interdependent world where the flow of ideas across borders continues to expand exponentially. Our students span broad spectrums of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, political persuasion, income levels, and nationality, with the third highest percentage of international students of any national university in the country. We were pioneers in recruiting students from all over the world and opening campuses abroad.
Everybody look up for just a minute. You see all these flags? They're fabulous, aren't they? These are the flags of almost, we couldn't quite get all of them, but of almost every country represented amongst our student body.
We know from experience that when institutions purposely try to make environments as diverse and welcoming as possible, they gain vitality and adaptability. Our diversity is a source of strength. We understand that the educational experience of all our students is that much richer because of our diverse community of people, all sharing different experiences, perspectives and conversations. And our students agree. Upon graduation, nearly nine in ten Suffolk students report that THIS UNIVERSITY improved their ability to relate to people of different backgrounds and perspectives. I am really proud of that.
So as part of our commitment to fostering the skills of human interaction amongst all our students, we will continue to grow our commitment to international education, both on our core campus here in Boston, and beyond. We will build an even more robust set of programs at our campus in Madrid, Spain, and we will consider other international satellites and partnerships in other urban centers.
An expanded focus on both the sensibilities of human interaction and all liberal arts skills supports a broader commitment to excellence in academic programming. That commitment also requires that we further develop our cross-school collaborations and interdisciplinary orientation.
The problems of the world do not exist in disciplinary buckets. Addressing those problems requires the ability to think outside the lines of neat, disciplinary thinking. And for that reason another area of increased investment must be in interdisciplinary programs. As part of our next wave of expansion, I'm asking the campus community to look carefully at some key areas of opportunity including building on our existing honors program by creating Suffolk University interdisciplinary honors college. An honors college would draw on the strengths of our existing faculty, programs, and structures across all three schools in new and creative ways. And we can only begin to imagine the array of innovative new interdisciplinary programs that would emerge as honor students and faculty collaborate on research and pilot experimental programs which might later emerge as curricular offerings for all of our students.
And the need to work across boundaries extends to our engagement with the external community. We understand that the life-changing experience we offer through internships, clinical programs, service learning, and community engagement is impossible to deliver on our own. We rely on partners, including so many in this great hall and in this great city. We partner with the business and civic communities, with the City of Boston, Boston Public Schools, with the legal and non-profit communities, and so many others. Our success going forward will require even more ensembles and fewer soloists. Remember, I mentioned my family was musical. We are not going to do this alone. We will succeed through partnerships and through our unbreakable ties to this city and its vibrant organizations. You are here, you are helping us, and we are grateful for that help, and we will continue to give back.
I believe that there is also a great opportunity for this University to take our historic commitment in the realm of civic engagement and public service and make it an even more visible centerpiece of the university. We have begun to explore the possibility of creating a school of public affairs. Such a school would tap into the extensive faculty expertise in all of our schools, and in centers and institutes throughout this University. Not only are we well positioned to engage in the issues of the day, but our historic commitment to civic engagement almost mandates that we engage in those conversations with political inclusion as a centerpiece.
Does discourse within a university need to be politically neutral or silent without an opinion? Or should we model what it means to espouse an opinion and yet be fully willing to hear from the other side? Perhaps more than ever there is a need for Suffolk University to bring its historic strength to bear in engaging in civil dialogue. With our dedication to community engagement, our politically active student body, our nationally known and respected political research center, a law school that has expertise in so many dimensions of the public arena, a public administration department that is preparing future leaders in public service, with our venerable and historical Ford Hall Forum, and so many other assets throughout this University, we can have an even stronger, yet civil and inclusive voice in the political, in the public arena, one that reaches Boston, and far beyond, as we engage on issues impacting the city, the nation and the world.
Suffolk was founded in the spirit of giving and selflessness. One man who paid for the education of another, and then refused to be repaid, asking only that he pass along the generosity to others one day. That is something we hold dear - that there is great value in being generous to each other and to our community, and also being recipients of our community's generosity. We have a spirit of service here. Our students embody what the late Senator John McCain said so well - that "nothing in life is more liberating than to fight for a cause larger than yourself." I believe, and the evidence is clear, that we have a favorable response to the value question. Our historic access and opportunity mission is as important now - maybe even more important - than it has ever been. As more and more people find themselves locked out of what has been a growing economy but for a smaller segment of people, it is schools like Suffolk that can shift that balance. There is a power here. It is in the magnitude of the impact that we have. We are about transforming lives. We are about building bridges to opportunity. As we were at our founding 112 years ago, we remain inclusive of those who have been traditionally excluded, and we strive to be ever more so.
This is how we want to be known. WE ARE SUFFOLK UNIVERSITY, AND WE ARE A POWERFUL FORCE FOR GOOD. It is a power derived from the strength of our community, from our commitment to inclusion, and from our dedication to an essential mission. We have been a force for good for more than a century, improving the lives of countless individuals along the way. And that is how we want to the world to know us. So we will bring a stronger voice to sharing our story. We want people to recognize the good that we do and join us.
To our faculty: You are the educators, the scholars, the mentors and the inspiration for our students, helping them to unleash their extraordinary potential.
To our staff: You are essential mentors as well, and you are tireless in your dedication to the advancement of this university and to each individual student's success.
To our alumni: You are our pride, our network, our ambassadors and our support. And most importantly, to our students: YOU ARE OUR FUTURE. Each of you has a unique story. And each of you is adding your story to the Suffolk story. The elevator doors open. And the T doors open, and the city and the world await, and the possibilities are endless, and we are in awe as we watch you make your way.