Graduates plan reunion of Hammond High's first four classes


In 1979, the Orioles lost the World Series, disco was dying -- and Tanya Rayford Nixon was among the 134 students who got their diplomas, as Hammond High School graduated its first class.

It was a landmark year for Ms. Nixon and for the Columbia high school, then just 2 years old and trying to establish its identity.

Now, the 32-year-old Ellicott City mother of two is trying to recapture the moment -- the struggle of 538 students to carve out a school identity.

She is among a group of former Hammond students organizing an April reunion of the school's first four graduating classes, which set milestones and traditions for the school.

Hammond's first students recall that it was difficult for them to transfer from well-established high schools to a new school with no history.

"The biggest thing was there was no tradition," said Ray Curley, captain of the varsity and junior varsity football teams for three years, and now a purchasing agent for a health care agency. "Homecoming tradition to me was graduates coming back to the school, and for the first couple of years there were no graduates coming back. It was a weird scenario."

County school officials opened Hammond in 1977 to relieve crowding at other high schools, drawing students from Jessup, Guilford, Kings Contrivance and Dasher Green, among other neighborhoods.

They pulled students from Oakland Mills, Howard and Atholton high schools to fill Hammond, resulting in some tensions among students from different areas.

"You were basically a part of the old school where you came from, and you didn't want to 'clique' with anyone else," Ms. Nixon said.

Still, there are plenty of good memories. Ms. Nixon remembers that by the end of the first school year, students from throughout the school were acquainted with almost every other student, no matter where they had come from. The school's small population helped.

Rhonda Carr Carpenter, who is pursuing her master's degree in business at Loyola College, remembers the "good times, great friends, just the entire high school experience. It was kind of fun and exciting, being the second graduating class," Ms. Carpenter said.

When former students and teachers think of Hammond, they often think of the school's first principal, Walter Caldwell, who died of a heart attack earlier this year. They say he kept the school community close-knit, and came up with the school motto, "Where people are important."

"Walt Caldwell exuded that," said Scott Pfeifer, a former Hammond biology teacher and now the principal at Atholton High School. "It was a special thing."

Said Ms. Nixon: "He tolerated nothing and was no-nonsense. He let us know that from the beginning. He was like your father."

Students and teachers say they also remember Carvelle "Skip" Link, an assistant principal who died of a brain aneurysm during the summer before the second school year. His sudden death shocked the school and drew students closer together.

The reunion takes place April 30 at La Fontaine Bleu in Glen Burnie. Tickets are $25 per person, $45 per couple. Send checks to H.H.S. Reunion, P.O. Box 2188, Ellicott City 21043. The deadline is Feb. 28.

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