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Paying it Forward: Introducing the Center for Community Engagement Equity Fund

August 4, 2021

Lifelong-learner Alex Wilson (’04) was transformed by the hands-on learning opportunities that characterized his time at Cary Academy. Now, he’s generously paying it forward with the creation of a new fund–one designed to ensure that all students can make the most of their CA experience.

Wilson has been following where his intellectual curiosity leads for as long as he can remember. “My wife probably wishes I wouldn’t,” he laughs. “I have at least 17 hobbies that I go back and forth between. I’m the type of person that, if I discover something new–something that I don’t already know about–I’m going to spend at least thirty minutes on Wikipedia going down that rabbit hole.”

Wilson’s enduring curiosity has served him well, leading him first to an undergraduate degree in history from Wake Forest University, then to Duke University School of Law, and now to a corporate law practice in Raleigh. At Wyrick Robbins, Wilson works in mergers and acquisitions, collaborating with myriad organizations to help them realize their goals. 

It is a career that he finds “inspiring,” with each day bringing new curiosities and engaging opportunities to learn as he explores the diverse industries he serves. For his efforts, he has been recognized as a “Rising Star” by North Carolina Super Lawyers seven years running.

Wilson’s lifelong love of learning has deep roots, extending back to his seven years at Cary Academy. Those seventeen hobbies? Most have Cary Academy origins. Whether it is an enduring love of travel first ignited by a world language exchange trip to Germany or a passion for playing musical instruments initially discovered in CA orchestra (he still plays the cello, an instrument to which he was first introduced in sixth grade), the list of Cary Academy’s impactful introductions goes on and on. 

Even his interest in the law can be traced back to David Snively’s classroom. When, as an impressionable eighth-grader, he sat riveted by guest speaker Rufus Edmisten, former Deputy Counsel for the Watergate Committee, during an immersive recreation of Nixon’s Watergate trial. (Incredibly, Wilson would later intern for Edmisten in college and now counts him as one of his most influential mentors.) 

Indeed, more than simply introducing him to his passions, Wilson also credits CA for fostering in him the confidence and curiosity to follow where they lead. And, for imparting the crucial soft skills—critical thinking, leadership, communication, time management—that have allowed him to capitalize on opportunities (like the internship with Edmisten) as they arise. 

“Cary Academy was such a special experience for me. I was given so many more opportunities—to try new things, to travel, to explore–than my peers at other schools. And what I learned from those experiences have stayed with me in very meaningful ways,” reflects Wilson. 

A member of Cary Academy’s inaugural sixth-grade class– the first class to attend all seven years at CA– Wilson is now paying his “transformative” experience forward in a big way. In December, Wilson–with the support of his wife, Mary Elizabeth and their three kids, James, Hohlt, and Grady—generously gifted CA a $150,000 endowment to create a new fund designed to ensure that all students can take full advantage of the CA experience. 

CA’s new Community Engagement Equity Fund focuses on eliminating additional student costs associated with the Center for Community Engagement’s service learning, experiential learning, entrepreneurship, and diversity, inclusion, and equity programming. For Wilson, it is about democratizing community engagement opportunities and ensuring that all students can have the perspective-shifting, inspiring, and transformative experiences that he benefitted from as a student—regardless of their financial standing.

“When I was at CA, there were students that couldn’t do things, couldn’t participate in opportunities they wanted to do—couldn’t go on a debate trip or study abroad or take advantage of other experiential learning programs–because they couldn’t afford it,” explains Wilson. “I hated that. Funding should not be the barrier to students engaging in hands-on learning opportunities that could ultimately change their lives.”

Wilson’s decision to support the Center for Community Engagement was an easy one –and one closely aligned with his values. “It was important to me to give back and to do so in a way that will directly impact the lives of students,” offers Wilson. “CA has fantastic teachers and excellent academics. CA students undoubtedly graduate with the hard skills necessary to write a paper, or play an instrument, or do math, or participate in a sport. But there are so many other important skills and different perspectives that can only be gained through direct, hands-on experiences like those offered by the Center for Community Engagement.

In particular, Wilson is keen to make sure that all students have equitable opportunities to get out of their bubbles and comfort zones to learn something new, discover a new perspective, and shape a more nuanced worldview.  “We live in a society where the 24-hour media cycle and social media has everyone living in an echo chamber,” explains Wilson. “You can go online and find anything or anyone that will support your worldview without challenging it. 

“I want all CA students to have opportunities to engage with people and projects that both support their worldview and challenge it. After all, that’s how you grow as a person, how you learn to think for yourself and solidify your own world view. More than that–it’s how we create leaders for society.”

Interested in how you too can support the Community Engagement Equity Fund? Reach out to our Director of Development, Ali Page, at ali_page@caryacademy.org, to learn how we can ensure that financial barriers don’t stand in the way of life-changing and leadership-building learning opportunities.

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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