Pikesville High School graduates have gone on to become authors, politicians, musicians and Broadway and television producers.
Several well-known alumni said high school molded them as people and piqued interests that would lead them to successful careers in a variety of fields.
“Not only was I challenged academically, but I was challenged as a human being,” said Marc Platt, a film and Broadway theater producer and former president of production at Universal, TriStar and Orion studios. “I really came to understand the true value of a teacher and how a mentor can change your life.”
And if it weren’t for the school’s science and math classes, a groundbreaking cancer researcher may have become a lawyer.
Dr. Bert Vogelstein’s father was a lawyer, as were several other members of his family, so he thought that’s what he was going to do. But after developing an interest in science and technology in high school, Vogelstein decided to pursue medicine. He would later discover links between genetics and cancer, moving modern cancer research astronomical steps forward.
Vogelstein, a graduate of Pikesville’s first class in 1966, remembers history teacher Paul Bolenbaugh teaching him how to learn things for himself, which Vogelstein said was more important than any facts he learned in high school. That approach certainly played a part in Vogelstein finding his place in medicine, which he figured out during medical school when his first patient was a little girl with leukemia.
“It was frustrating — but there was little, nothing, known about cancer at the time — when her parents asked me how this little precious girl developed cancer, and I didn’t have an answer, and nobody did,” said Vogelstein. “I decided that trying to understand what cancer is and what causes cancer would be a valuable way to spend my life.”
Like Vogelstein, Platt found the interests that would inform his career during high school. He directed a production of “Bye Bye Birdie” in 1975, during which he learned all the aspects of putting on a production.
“I knew I was interested in being a storyteller,” said Platt. “I’m not sure I knew precisely I was going to be a producer and before that, a studio executive.”
He directed and produced productions as a student at the University of Pennsylvania and would go on to become an entertainment lawyer prior to his executive positions. He has produced four Broadway plays, including “Wicked,” and several Hollywood hits, including the “Legally Blonde” movies.
Although he hasn’t lived in Baltimore since high school, he maintains his connections. He’s had children of classmates intern at his Los Angeles offices, and other Pikesville students come to him when they want help in the entertainment business. When he was honored by the school in the 1990s, he came back and spoke to the students.
“I remember speaking to them about pursuing the matters of the heart as well as the matters of the mind,” said Platt. “At 16, 17, 18, hopefully the world is still full of possibilities, and I think being able to impart that idea and notion was very meaningful to me.”
For Vogelstein, who has received numerous accolades over the years, including the $3 million Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, the Pikesville honor was also significant.
“That was one of the honors that actually made the most impact on me because it’s local,” he said. “It’s like family.”
Vogelstein said he and researchers are now tasked with reducing cancer death rates through early diagnosis and new treatments that build upon the canon of knowledge he has contributed to.