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President Keenan emphasizes equality, social justice, and Salem upbringing in Inaugural address

“Calling this city home for over half a century – I am an extremely proud and grateful son of Salem.”

John D. Keenan, JD, of Salem, was inaugurated as Salem State University’s 14th president on Friday, January 19. In his address, President Keenan, a first generation college graduate, invoked the words of Horace Mann – “education is the great equalizer” – as he emphasized the power of education to bring opportunity and change.

President Keenan added: “It’s easy for this to get lost in the day-to-day routine on campus, but we must remember that through our work at Salem State, we are fighting for equality. We are promoting democracy. And we are advancing social justice.”

President Keenan spoke of Salem State’s work providing the education and sense of community that was so crucial to his own success. Drawing on his upbringing in Salem, President Keenan referenced the mentors, teachers, coaches, friends, classmates, roommates, colleagues, and family who shaped him.

He stated: “Calling this city home for over half a century – I am an extremely proud and grateful son of Salem.”

Referencing those growing up in Salem who come from challenging economic backgrounds, President Keenan announced the launch of the “Dream Scholarship,” which will provide funding to children of Salem who lack the means to attend college. The Inauguration was entirely funded through private donations, and these contributions will also be used to launch the scholarship.

President Keenan spoke of his hopes that Salem State will be the first state university in the Commonwealth to become a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), in which 25 percent of students identify as Hispanic. The Hispanic population is the fastest growing in the North Shore, and Salem State is committed to ensuring the success of all students in the region and beyond.

The Dream Scholarship and HSI designation were both discussed as part of President Keenan’s vision for the next decade, which he stated would focus on academic excellence, student success, and capital improvements. Among President Keenan’s stated goals were building a science teaching laboratory addition, achieving accreditation for the Bertolon School of Business, offering a doctoral program in occupational therapy, attaining Carnegie Classification for civic engagement, advocating for a South Salem commuter rail station, increasing the graduation rate from 52 percent to 65 percent, closing achievement gaps, increasing enrollment, and launching another comprehensive fundraising campaign following the successful 10,000 Reasons Campaign that raised over $26 million.

President Keenan emphasized the importance of Salem State becoming as inclusive as it is diverse, and he discussed hateful acts of vandalism that occurred on campus in September and this week. He addressed the challenges faced in higher education and in our country, as well as the elevated need to promote inclusion, social justice, civic engagement and activism.

Offering advice to students, President Keenan highlighted the importance of hard work and resilience, recalling having lost two local elections before going on to serve the Seventh Essex District in the Massachusetts State Legislature from 2005 to 2014.  

President Keenan began his role as the 14th president of Salem State University on August 6, 2017. Prior to being named president, he served as the university’s general counsel and vice president for administration, responsible for the departments of human resources and equal opportunity, capital planning and facilities, information technology, risk and asset management, university police, and legal. His full biography can be read at

Event Details, Speakers and Guests

The Inauguration of Salem State University’s 14th President was held in the university’s Twohig Gymnasium. The campus community and general public were invited to reserve tickets to the historic event at no cost.

Along with the president’s Inaugural address, various statewide higher education leaders and members of the Salem State community took part in the ceremony by offering remarks, reading original poetry, and engaging in inaugural traditions.

The ceremony included an address from Governor Charlie Baker, a welcome from Board of Trustees Chair Paul Mattera, and remarks from campus and community leaders, including: Joan Lovely ’06, Massachusetts State Senator, Second Essex District; Paul Tucker ’87, Massachusetts State Representative, Seventh Essex District; Kimberley Driscoll ’89, Mayor of the City of Salem; Mary DeSimone ’76, Alumni trustee and Alumni Association Board of Directors Member; Professor James Gubbins, Massachusetts State College Association Salem Chapter President; and Nikolla Papa, Student Government Association Secretary.

Salem State Professor January Gill O’Neil and student Edwin J. Calderon each recited a piece of original poetry created for the Inauguration. Student Stephanie Lento sang the National Anthem. Massachusetts Commissioner of Higher Education Carlos E. Santiago and President Emerita Patricia Maguire Meservey were among those who took part in Inaugural traditions.

President Keenan’s family was central to the ceremony, as he was joined on stage by his father, John D. Keenan Sr., his wife, Kara McLaughlin, and his children, Aidan Keenan and Erin Keenan.

Kimberly Burnett
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