An interview with volunteers Melissa del Aguila ’01 and Dev Talvadkar ’01.
Melissa del Aguila ’01 and Dev Talvadkar ’01 first started dating while they were at Sidwell Friends. Now married, volunteering for their alma mater has become part of who they are individually and as a couple. Again and again, they show up for Sidwell Friends. For Melissa, that even meant helping run their five-year class reunion two days after gallbladder surgery. But that hasn’t stopped them from helping to organize all of their class reunions ever since. From one yes to the next, their volunteering has evolved organically over the last decade and a half.
When Dev learned that a tribute was being organized for his former football and baseball coach, John Simon, he felt he had to help. “He was one of the most formative people in my life,” says Dev. “I said to Melissa, I’d love to be involved in this.”
Melissa’s commitment to volunteer for Sidwell Friends may actually have started before she even graduated. “I came to Sidwell Friends in 7th grade on a very large scholarship,” she says. “I vividly remember the financial aid letter saying something like, ‘We’re giving toward your education, and we hope that you will give back throughout your life.’” She recalled that letter when she was doing a fellowship in Costa Rica after college. “I was literally trying to pay for my rice and beans on a very small stipend,” she says. But when someone from Sidwell Friends reached out for a gift, Melissa asked if $20 was okay, and received an enthusiastic response. “I’ve just always felt this commitment to fulfill that early promise,” she says.
Later, as a class agent, Melissa became the one on the other end of the phone asking for a gift. “I like making those calls, connecting with classmates, convincing people to give,” she says. “I just try to be as authentic as possible. My Sidwell Friends education was so transformative for me. I was intellectually curious and all the different teachers I had at Sidwell Friends unlocked and channeled that curiosity.” When she asks her classmates to give, she talks about wanting other students like her to have such teachers too.
One of the teachers who made a huge impact on both Dev and Melissa is their former history teacher and now head of school, Bryan Garman. Neither Dev nor Melissa can bring themselves to call him Bryan. He’s still Mr. Garman to them. Bryan Garman’s leadership is one of the reasons they’ve both joined the alumni committee working on the School’s current campaign — the most ambitious in Sidwell Friends’s history. “What really got me excited was when Mr. Garman was speaking about the once-in-a-generation opportunity we have to take this Quaker education to the next level,” says Dev. Melissa adds, “To be involved at such a pivotal moment is really important to me.”
For both of them, Sidwell Friends’s Quaker values are an essential part of why their experience was so meaningful and why it continues to be. “Consensus building, listening, patience—having those values has made it so much easier for me to succeed in different areas of life,” says Dev. For Melissa, the School’s Quaker values felt like a natural extension of her home life, but Sidwell Friends gave structure, names, and a way to practice those values. She sees her career in public service and as a human rights lawyer as an outcome.
Having taken on multiple volunteer roles at the School, Melissa says even though they have busy lives, they rarely say no. When asked why, Dev says: “Everything we do in some way, shape, or form, points back to Sidwell. We come at volunteering in different ways and for different reasons, but I think for both of us anytime there’s an opportunity to be connected to and help this special place, we’ll be there.”