The Sidwell Friends Medical Advisory Team and Neeknaz Abari ’16 were honored for their extraordinary spirit of community service and dedication during the COVID pandemic.
The 45th Annual Newmyer Awards could not have been held at a better time. During a warm week full of sunshine, Middle and Upper School students played impromptu games of spikeball and either marvelled at or hid from Brood X cicadas. Lower School students rode the lingering exuberance they’d felt during Field Day activities just days before.
If today’s vibrant campus life feels far different than it did just a year ago, it is in large part due to the ongoing volunteer efforts of the Sidwell Friends Medical Advisory Team. That is why the Newmyers and the School decided to do things a bit differently with this year’s Newmyer Awards. Rather than honor individuals who “have made the greatest contribution over a sustained period of time to the values of Sidwell Friends and the life of the School community,” they chose to recognize the eight members of the Medical Advisory Team: Amanda Derryck Castel '91 (P '21, '24), Stephen Evans (P '24, '27), Wayne A.I. Frederick (P '24), Peggy Hamburg (P '11, '13), Ali Mohamadi ’94 (P ’23, ’26), Cynthia Ogden (P '15, '18), Channing Paller ’97, and Rajiv Shah (P '24, '27, '29).
These dedicated individuals are parents, trustees, and alumni with extensive experience in medicine, epidemiology, and pandemic response who ensured that the School could continue to deliver its mission throughout the pandemic.
“The Medical Advisory Team has worked tirelessly to protect our community and safeguard our collective health over the past 14 months,” Elsa (’72) and Ginger (P ’72, ’74, ’76) Newmyer explained. This included “advising on when to close the campus and shift to distance learning; helping to identify when and how to resume in-person learning; reviewing campus health and safety protocols; and educating the community to alleviate anxieties and build confidence as students and faculty returned to campus.”
Quite simply, students and faculty would not have smoothly transitioned from distance learning, to hybrid learning, to a safe, fully on-campus experience without the guidance and support of this group of remarkable volunteers.
“The only thing that they cared to do was to serve the School and to bring to us the most relevant knowledge that they had at the time,” Head of School Bryan Garman said. “They did it in the most selfless way, and they did it always by saying we want to make sure that we do what's right for our faculty and for our students.”
Across the country, Neeknaz Abari ’16 felt drawn to serve unhoused individuals in her Bay Area community. Recognizing that unhoused individuals faced greater risk of contracting COVID-19, and that masks offered a simple way to help mitigate the spread and impact of COVID on this population, Abari co-founded Masks2All. Through Mask2All, Abari was able to purchase and distribute thousands of masks to homeless services nonprofits for delivery to their clients. With some help from old friends at Sidwell Friends, their distribution—which began in Berkeley—expanded to Oakland, San Francisco, San Diego, Richmond, and Washington, DC.
For her service and selflessness during an extraordinary year, Abari was awarded the Newmyer Young Alumni Service Award, given annually since 2018 to young alumni with an exceptional commitment to volunteer service.
In a touching reflection, her father, Amin Abari (P ’16, ’20), shared an excerpt from the Sidwell Friends application they’d filled out for her years before. “‘Neeknaz has an inherent sense of social justice and fairness, combined with a deep desire to help make the world around her a better place. Although we strive to teach her some of the ways she could be more effective in achieving her goals, we feel that our cultural background may not provide us with all the tools and knowledge that we need to help her effectively. That is what we hope a Quaker philosophy—from what we know about it—may be able to teach her.’”
He added, “Today, I want to say, ‘mission accomplished!’"
“We know that sometimes adversity builds character, but we also know that adversity reveals character,” Garman said of all of these inspiring individuals who lead through service. “I just can't overstate the way in which these honorees have let their lives speak to the values of the School and revealed to all of us the extraordinary human beings that they are.”
About the Newmyer Awards
In 1975, ten couples who were friends of Ginger and Jimmie Newmyer ’37 chose to honor their 25th wedding anniversary with a very special gift to the School. This thoughtful tribute recognized the couple’s years of extraordinary volunteerism and thus established the annual Newmyer Awards. Since first introduced, over 250 individuals have been honored by this celebration of the spirit of volunteerism and commitment to service within the Sidwell Friends community.
In 2018, Ginger and Jimmie’s daughter, Elsa Newmyer ’72, established the Newmyer Young Alumni Service Award to recognize a new generation of young alumni for their exceptional commitment to volunteer service.