35th Anniversary: From Cleveland Public to Ivy League: Tonisha Calbert

There’s a billboard on I-90 West that says “From Cleveland to Harvard.”

The ad isn’t just a game face. One of Cleveland’s own is a walking testimonial.

Tonisha Calbert — call her Toni — was the first Cleveland Public Schools graduate to attend Harvard University in close to a decade when Cleveland Magazine announced its most interesting people in 1999.

Her personal essay on overcoming shyness impressed Harvard recruiters.

“Getting into Harvard was the hardest thing I ever did,” she says, “and everything followed after that.”

Calbert graduated in 2002 and went on to Columbia Law School. Now she’s a first-year corporate associate working with companies on their security filings at the firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher in New York City. “Being a lawyer was on the list of many things I could have done,” she says confidently.

At the moment, however, returning to Cleveland full time is not on that list.

“I still envision a time when I’ll move back to Cleveland, but for now ...” she trails off, satisfied with the closet-size West Village apartment she shares with an old college roomie, then adds, “Everything here stays open really late."
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