Pay it Forward
When Conner and Ginny Searcy learned of Vanderbilt’s new no-need-based loan financial aid packages for undergraduates, they knew the time had come to act.
“When we got the news of the no-loan program, we said ‘That’s it. That is the cause’—the most important thing that Vanderbilt has done since we’ve been involved with the school.”
– Conner Searcy, BA’96
“When we got the news of the no-loan program, we said ‘That’s it. That is the cause’—the most important thing that Vanderbilt has done since we’ve been involved with the school,” says Conner Searcy, BA’96. That’s when the couple decided to endow a need-based scholarship in the College of Arts and Science as a way of sharing their success and in hope that their gift will influence the recipients and fellow alumni to do the same and “pay it forward.”
As high school students in adjacent states in the great American Southwest, Conner and Ginny could hardly foresee that their futures and fortunes would intertwine in the Southeast, surrounded by the rolling hills of Middle Tennessee and under the oak trees of Vanderbilt University. They came by different roads, found common ground, and set out on a journey of success that they now share with those that come behind.
Right from the Start
Virginia “Ginny” Buxton, BA’96, hailed from a small town in Oklahoma, where almost no one left to go away to college. “My cousin was at Vanderbilt a few years ahead of me,” she recounts. “When I was looking for colleges, I looked only at a couple of schools with a focus on math, science and a great liberal arts program—far from home, but not too far from home. I went to visit Vanderbilt and was sold the minute I stepped on campus. I applied for early decision.”
Conner Searcy grew up in Houston, raised by a single working mother. He has a sister who is disabled, and things were tough financially. He was able to attend private schools through financial aid and scholarships, experiences that changed his life for the better. When it came time for college, he knew he wanted a school below the Mason-Dixon Line. “I actually had my heart set on going to Duke,” Conner admits. “I wanted to go to a great academic institution with a good social atmosphere. I visited Duke and then visited Vanderbilt right after that, and said, ‘You know, I think Vanderbilt works for me.’ That’s when I applied for early decision. Vanderbilt’s the only school I applied to, and I was fortunate to receive an academic scholarship.”
They met the year Ginny was a sophomore and Conner, a freshman. Ginny majored in biology before going on to earn a master’s degree in public health administration at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. Conner focused his studies on economics. After four years in the workforce in Dallas and marriage, they moved to Boston where Conner earned a master of business degree at Harvard. “I knew I wanted to get my MBA and return to the private equity business,” he says. “I was working in that field when I applied.”
Ginny says they loved the adventure of being in Boston. “Nashville was sort of my first adventure out of Oklahoma, and being in Boston was great for us. We were already married when we went, and it was great to be away on our own for a while,” she says. “Our first year, I told Conner we should stay and make Boston our home. We had a very mild first winter. Then we had a very strenuous second winter—the snow never stopped. We were glad to get back to Texas after that.”
Family and Travel
Life in Texas is full and active. Ginny found success first in hospital administration and now as the mother of their three children: Will, 4; Brooks, 3; and Ellie, 2. Conner is a triathlete and completed his first Ironman last September. That helps keep him in condition for his day job. “We’re a private equity firm that buys companies in some form of distress with the idea of turning them around and ultimately selling them. Looking at new opportunities and visiting our portfolio companies requires a lot of travel,” he says. “I try to make everything a day trip. I’ve made day trips to New York and Boston. I try not to spend the night anywhere away from home when I can avoid it. Although a day trip to Boston is awfully tough.”
One day trip Conner makes on a regular basis is back to the College of Arts and Science, where he shares his business experience as a guest lecturer for the managerial studies program. “Ginny and I fundamentally believe that if you’re as fortunate as we have been, and have been afforded the things we’ve been afforded in our lives, we need to pay it forward,” he says.
The Searcy commitment to pay it forward is evident in their community activities as well. Among Ginny’s favorites are the Dallas Child Advocacy Center, Episcopal School of Dallas, Children’s Medical Center and Dallas Museum of Art. “Most of the things we do center on children and education,” Conner says.
Catalyst for the Future
When they learned of Vanderbilt’s commitment to no need-based loans for undergraduates, the couple was moved to become personally involved. “It’s an incredibly noble cause that students not have to worry about paying off a mountain of debt for the rest of their lives,” Conner says. “I firmly think that this is the catalyst that the school leaders have been looking for the last 50 years, and it’ll make Vanderbilt stronger and one of the top-10 academic institutions in the country. This is going to draw in better students and better professors.”
Both their mothers are teachers, Ginny says, and instilled in their children the need to seek out the best opportunities possible and to make them available to those who might not be as fortunate. “In terms of philanthropy, Conner and I thought, ‘we’re now fortunate enough to be in a place where we can start to give back.’ We want to set an example for our friends who may not have started thinking about how—or the vehicles for—giving back.”
Recently, the Searcys hosted a lunch to introduce some of their Vanderbilt friends to Dean Carolyn Dever. “We have a big contingency here in Dallas, and we keep in touch on a regular basis,” Conner says. “Our goal was to invite some of our friends to a luncheon where we could pitch them on giving to the scholarship fund.” He says that their friends love the fact that Vanderbilt is helping students with debt, and that they themselves can help. “Now it’s our job, Ginny and I, whether other folks turn that into giving back,” he says. “We’re working on that.”
photo credit: John Russell