KENT — Keisha Cleveland Baptiste, a 1991 graduate of the Marvelwood School, will address the school’s Class of 2021 at its 63rd annual commencement on Saturday, May 22.
Born and raised in Harlem, Baptiste has dedicated her life’s work to ensuring that all students, regardless of demographics, have access to high-quality education, an announcement from the school said. After beginning her career as a history teacher at Marvelwood, she went on to teach at the Children’s Storefront School in East Harlem. She served for many years as dean at Link Community School in Newark, N.J., and the Cristo Rey Brooklyn High School in East Flatbush, Brooklyn.
She is currently working as an academic support specialist for the City University of New York and completing a master’s degree in disability services and higher education at Manhattanville College. Baptiste resides in New York City with her husband Shirn and their two children, Anaya and Sean.
As a student at Marvelwood, she co-founded CASA, the Cultural and Social Awareness club, in 1988 with veteran faculty member Laurie Doss in response to the untimely death of Desmond Letsie Mphenyke, Class of ’91. Letsie had come to Marvelwood from South Africa to escape the injustices of apartheid and to seek better educational opportunities, the announcement said. In the spring of his junior year, he died in his dorm room of congenital heart failure. The Marvelwood community came together to mourn and pay tribute to the tragically short life of a young man from halfway across the world. In their grief, they realized that there was so much they didn’t know about Desmond and the adversity that he and so many others faced in South Africa. CASA was developed as a forum to learn about, discuss, and promote diversity, acceptance, tolerance, and equity, and continues to be an active and important organization within the Marvelwood community, the announcement said.
During her tenure at Marvelwood, Baptiste also helped establish a chapter of Amnesty International as part of the school’s community service program. She performed in many theater productions of the Marvelwood Philalatheis Society, including “On Tidy Endings” with now-Head of School Blythe Everett, who was in her first year of teaching at the school.
An accomplished athlete, Baptiste was coached by Laurie Doss on the soccer and softball teams. She was named to the WNEPSAA All-Star and All-State teams for her goal-tending abilities. She was the recipient of the Female Athlete of the Year award and the Wittenberg Cup, the school’s highest award, at her graduation in 1991.
Marvelwood’s commencement will take place in person and outdoors on Piper Bell Circle with COVID protocols in place. While the campus remains closed to visitors, each graduate is permitted two guests for the socially-distanced ceremony.