When it comes to the two words "City Forever," more is conveyed than simply a phrase used regularly and reflexively by students and alums of The Baltimore City College.

In recent weeks, I have three times been at the school with my husband, a member of the City class of 1961. I have heard the phrase repeatedly. It is used in enthusiasm, as praise or in response to a generous gesture. It is posted on bulletin boards with articles, photographs and names in spotless, quiet, polished halls.

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A group of students said it in unison when they found out my husband was a graduate. It was unspoken, although in the air, at the end of a song the choir spontaneously offered when we stopped by their room on our tour of the school.

I had never set foot on the spacious, green campus of "The Castle on the Hill" until I started attending the plays in which a neighbor and former student acted. She was also a member of City's legendary debating team and now attends the University of Chicago. When her younger brother spotted us in a school hall last week, I found myself saying "City Forever," as he shook our hands and walked to his next class.

I have no idea how long that contagious phrase has existed, but "City Forever" seems to be true.  The nation's third oldest public high school is celebrating its 175th anniversary. The school has moved, changed its name, curriculum and student body composition several times over its long history, but what seems "forever" is that it is one of the best high schools in Maryland and the country.

During my high school years, City was renowned for its strength in the humanities and for its college preparatory curriculum, whose "A" course allowed graduating seniors to enter college at the sophomore level. Although the "A" course no longer exists, the International Baccalaureate certificate and diploma programs give City's almost 1,300 students access to 30 well-integrated, cross-disciplinary, advanced studies courses recognized by universities worldwide, as well as Advanced Placement courses.

Many graduates attend prestigious colleges and universities. A liberal arts magnet school with a selective admissions process, City now also attracts graduates from some of Baltimore's elite middle schools. Our young friend, J.D. Merrill, who teaches humanities at City, reports that six Calvert School graduates were recently in one of his classes.

"City Forever" applies to some of its teachers like Merrill. He graduated from City in 2009. After receiving a B.A. from Davidson College in educational policy studies, he returned to teach at City on a two-year Teach for America contract and has now signed a contract to teach there for a third year.

He has introduced us to more than a dozen alums, who continue to serve the school as leaders of the alumni association, teachers, counselors, band and choir directors, athletic coaches and administrators.

The principal since 2010 is Cindy Harcum, City College class of 1988. She embodies "City Forever." After college graduation, Harcum returned to City as a teacher, then became a department chair and coordinator of the International Baccalaureate curriculum before becoming an administrator. Her contagious dedication to her alma mater is felt in the hallways, where an ambience of respect, purpose and friendliness prevail.

The school translates its motto, "Palmam qui meruit ferat," as "Let him who earns it bear the palm." The principle of honor to those who earn it is the daily ethic for students while they are at City and apparently beyond.

Among City graduates are three current members of Congress: Sen. Benjamin Cardin and U.S. Reps. Dutch Ruppersberger and Elijah Cummings. Three Maryland governors were City graduates: Harry Nice, Marvin Mandel and William Donald Schaefer. Dozens have served or currently serve in the state legislature, including Dels. Curt Anderson, Sandy Rosenberg, Daniel Riley, Norman Stone and Nathaniel McFadden.

Former Baltimore City Mayor Kurt Schmoke graduated from City, as did dozens of local, state and federal judges, Baltimore City Council members, business and nonprofit leaders and philanthropists like Zanvyl Krieger, Morris Mechanic and Joseph Meyerhoff.

Well-known writers like Russell Baker and Leon Uris, artists like Jacob Glushakow and Reuben Kramer, composers like Philip Glass, even a Nobel Prize-winner like Martin Rodbell are City alums.

No matter their fame, many graduates live by a standard of hard work and community engagement learned at City. "City Forever" might be a good motto for all of us in Baltimore to adopt.

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