Q&A with Diana Villarreal ’13 and Karthik Ilakkuvan ’13

We had the opportunity to sit down with Diana Villarreal ’13 and Karthik Ilakkuvan ’13 in Richmond, Virginia, to talk about their time at William & Mary. Karthik, a marketing major, taught for three years in South Texas and is now working with the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program in Philadelphia. Diana, a psychology and sociology major, attended Virginia Commonwealth University for her master’s in social work and now manages the volunteer programs and outreach initiatives for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Richmond. Diana and Karthik recently went to India for Karthik’s wedding.

Can you tell me a little bit about how you met? It’s like a love story. 

Together: A friend love story.

Karthik: Diana and I were both lucky enough to be placed in Monroe Hall our freshmen year. “Monroe, YOU know!”

Diana: The chant, Monroe.

Together: You know!

What was your fondest William & Mary memory?

Diana: It’s really tough to think of my fondest memory ever, but I think if I have to narrow it down, I specifically remember a night that we stayed up talking until 5 a.m. in Camm attic. I think we talked a lot about your [Karthik] wedding — your future, potential wedding.  I’m not sure if that’s the same night but I said, “Karthik, I’m going to make it to India. I don’t know how I’m going to pay for a flight — I’m going to save up my money.”

Karthik: You did.

Diana: And then I did.

How did philanthropy impact your undergraduate experience?

Karthik: Phonathon was a constant throughout my four years, but I think on a grander scale, so many of my friends were able to take advantage of scholarship opportunities that are only accessible because of the Fund for William & Mary.

Diana: Philanthropy allows you to give back in whatever way is meaningful to you. If you had an amazing experience with X department, then you should give to that department in order to help students who are coming behind you. You can choose where your funds go.

Can you describe how your relationship with the Tribe has grown from freshman year until now?

Karthik: When I entered freshman year, my thought process was that if I don’t like it here I can totally transfer, but almost immediately there was a sense of community and belonging on campus. I think what makes William & Mary special is the people who work at the institution and the students who are there at any given time. When I was teaching, I would take our students on many college tours across the country. While there are some things that are true at every four-year institution, some things are not replicable. There are things that exist only at William & Mary. Every week I recognize something William & Mary has taught me that has propelled me further in my personal life, my career and the things I want to accomplish moving forward. It’s just really nice that once you leave William & Mary, William & Mary doesn’t leave you.

Diana: The sense of community is huge, and I can’t really describe it because it’s more of a feeling. I get that feeling when I’m at William & Mary. I get that feeling at alumni events in Richmond, Virginia. It is truly about a network. When you meet someone else from W&M, you share this common thread.

What compels you to give back to W&M?

Diana: How much I give back is a huge priority for me. Giving to William & Mary is something that I really prioritize. The university has me given so much that I can’t even put into words. William & Mary will always be special to me, and I want to help make it special for other people as well. 

Karthik: My wife and I were doing our budget a couple of months ago, and I said “this [donation to W&M] is a non-negotiable type thing. I’ll take money away from other areas, but the amount I need to give back to W&M each year is at least this much.” I feel like when I’m around other people who have gone to different institutions, they say “they’re building this new stadium or this new building” and “I wish it was there when I was there.”  While I have that feeling sort of, my bigger feeling is “Look at this, this is amazing. Look at how many steps forward W&M is taking.” The fact that it is a public institution fuels the reasons why I give.

Diana: Participation is really important. There may be a time in your life that even if you want to prioritize giving back, you might not be able to do it to the level you were able to in the past. But it’s always important to participate.

Why do you think that young alumni as a community support W&M?

Karthik: My parents always used to say “you don’t know what we’re teaching you until you’re older,” and that’s how I feel about W&M. I didn’t appreciate everything I was learning at W&M until I graduated. Now I recognize how much better I was prepared for the real world than a lot of people around me, how much more confident I felt and how I am able to approach problems and efficiencies.

Diana: It’s the early awareness and understanding of why giving is important that’s going to increase participation. If you don’t understand why it’s important to give [as an undergraduate], you’re not going to [later] whether you are financially able to or not. I think that’s why efforts have been placed in educating students earlier to give back.

What would you like President Reveley to know about your experience at W&M?

Karthik: Leadership permeates throughout an institution and when you have someone who is charismatic, driven, very open and shares the explicit vision he has for the institution, it is reflected in the staff and student body.

Diana: President Reveley really understands the culture, the community, the feelings, what the the student body is like, what is W&M and what that means. In order to lead, you really need to understand the group you’re leading. It’s a really special place.