Yale Medalists discuss inspiration for, rewards of giving back to Yale
The Association of Yale Alumni (AYA) Assembly and Yale Alumni Fund Convocation is a two-day celebration (Nov. 8-9) of Yale alumni leadership and service, filled with panel discussions, speeches, breakout sessions, and more — all touching on what it means to be an alumni leader at Yale and highlighting the importance of giving back.
Its headline event is the Yale Medal ceremony, held Friday evening. There, Yale will celebrate five alumni for their enduring contributions to their fellow alumni and to the university. The Yale Medal is the highest honor awarded by the AYA.
This year’s recipients are Lise Pfeiffer Chapman ’81 M.B.A., Gregory J. Hall ’77, Bo Hopkins ’86 M.B.A., Margaret Hilary Marshall ’76 J.D., ’12 LL.D.H, and Sheryl Carter Negash ’82. Prior to being honored, the five talked about what it was like to find out they had been chosen for this year’s award, the lessons they’ve learned as volunteers, and their advice for those who might follow in their footsteps.
What was your reaction to hearing that you’d been awarded this year’s Yale Medal?
Sheryl Carter Negash: I was moved to tears. Having been around the AYA for many years, I have seen the medal awarded to many wonderful people. I was humbled to be included in such an outstanding group. It is always nice to be recognized for your hard work, and it is validating to know that other people value your contributions. I see this as a double blessing: I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to contribute and I am pleased to know that my volunteer efforts have added value to the Yale community.
Margaret Marshall: I was speechless; it was so unexpected. I had to say something to Pulin Sanghvi, who telephoned to inform me. I cannot remember what I said, but within the hour (once I had recovered), I wrote to him: “I am finally really absorbing this wonderful honor. … I feel overwhelmed. …” Even now, months later, I still feel honored and overwhelmed.
Tell us about your service. How did you get started? And why did you continue?
Gregory Hall: I was a financial aid student at Yale and I have always been grateful to those whose generosity provided me with the opportunity of a lifetime, specifically the Yale Club of Garden City, New York, which provided me with a gift scholarship. It seemed only natural to me as a Yale senior to take on the role of Quarter Century Fund class agent, as well as a number of other volunteer fundraising roles over the years, as a way to thank Yale.
Lise Chapman: Being grateful to others who helped me when I was young, I have given back ever since. At Yale, it began with cleaning a park for Yale Day of Service, followed by increased engagement as a member of the AYA Board of Governors. Now, I’m working with a team connecting first-generation, underserved alumni to help our students with similar backgrounds navigate Yale and beyond. Every opportunity to do something meaningful gives me a sense of purpose and great joy. While helping others, I have changed myself for the better.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of giving back to Yale?
Bo Hopkins: This university has offered me so much and asked for so little in return. Over these past 42 years, both the School of Management and the university have welcomed me back as volunteer, mentor, advisor, and ultimately, teacher. With each opportunity I have recouped so much more than I offered, enriched and rewarded by the friendships made along the way.
Margaret Marshall: In the decades since I graduated and through Law School alumni events, I have loved keeping in touch with colleagues and faculty and friends made when I was a student. I have connected to new generations of Yale students and faculty and administrators and staff by accepting invitations to work on new initiatives, lecture at Yale, speak at student and alumni events, serve as mentor or advisor. These old and new Yale connections have given me much: deep friendships, the opportunity to work with great leaders within and beyond Yale, and countless different “educations.” Again and again, I have felt my world and my brain being stretched. My debt to Yale is great.
What advice would you give to current students and young alumni looking to follow in your footsteps?
Lise Chapman: Know that as just one person you can make a difference, whatever you do. First, be all-in with a heartfelt commitment, learn from others around you, and be a resilient optimist. Second, lead from behind by encouraging others to step forward, giving credit and thanking them for their contributions. Third, think outside the box for the greater good, being of service to and for Yale. You will be amazed at what you can accomplish and enjoy along the way.
Sheryl Carter Negash: My life has been enriched by the relationships that I have formed through my volunteer service with Yale. My connection to Yale now goes beyond just my class affiliation; I feel connected to the university as a whole. Yale has impacted me, and I have positively impacted the lives of others by volunteering. I would encourage all students and alumni to be active in the community and find joy in service to Yale. There is nothing better.
Bo Hopkins: My advice to any alum who asks is always stay involved with Yale, by any means and in any capacity. There is magic here, rooted in an elixir of youth, intellect, and a desire to contribute. Why would anyone ever leave that behind?