If a Yale alumnus had never visited the minority-heavy Theodore Roosevelt High School in East Los Angeles in the 1960s, Don Nakanishi ’71 said he might not have come to Yale.
But on Friday night, Nakanishi was one of five alumni to receive the Yale Medal, given by the Association of Yale Alumni in recognition of their outstanding individual service to the University.
Nakanishi, the chair of the Alumni Schools Committee of Los Angeles County, said at a reception Friday that he hoped through his work on the committee to increase the level of diversity at Yale.
“I wanted to make Yale a better place,” he said. “I think Yale’s a better place when it is a more diverse place.”
At a gala dinner in Commons as part of the AYA’s three-day assembly, awards were presented to University Vice President and Secretary Linda Lorimer LAW ’77, Edward Dennis ’63, William Wright II ’ 82, Roslyn Milstein Meyer ’71 GRD ’73 ’77 and Nakanishi. The Yale Medal — the AYA’s highest honor — is given annually to graduates who demonstrate extraordinary devotion to the ideals of the University and who perform extensive and exemplary voluntary service on behalf of Yale, according to the AYA.
The five recipients have supported Yale in a variety of ways, from volunteering with the Yale School of Medicine to serving on the Yale Corporation.
Lorimer, who volunteered at a number of Yale organizations before becoming a University employee, was a “highly unusual” choice for the medal, AYA executive director Mark Dollhopf said. Usually employees of the university are not eligible, but an exception was made for Lorimer, Dollhopf said.
“There is no woman in Yale’s history who has done more for the University,” University President Richard Levin said at the reception.
In addition to holding administrative positions at the University from 1978 to 1986, Lorimer has volunteered at the Women’s Health Research at Yale Initiative and served on the Board of Trustees at the Berkeley Divinity School, on the School of Music Advisory Board and on the Yale Corporation as an alumni fellow.
One of Meyer’s most memorable experiences as an alumna was acting as a trustee for the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life, she said. Before the center was built, services took place in the basement of the rabbi’s house on High Street and Hillel offices were in a basement on Old Campus — not an ideal situation, she said.
“To go from that space to the Slifka Center was both a dream and a realization of a dream,” she said.
Meyer also has served as a voluntary faculty member at the Yale School of Medicine, a member of the Volunteer Council for Women’s Health Research at Yale and a member of the Board of the Yale University Art Gallery.
Wright, a Sterling Fellow, has already received the Alumni Fund Chairman’s Award in 1992 for raising a record-setting amount of money for his tenth reunion gift. He has served on the Board of Directors of the Yale Alumni Fund, where he was chair from 2004 to 2006, the University Council and the Yale Tomorrow Campaign Executive Council.
“Billy Wright embodies service,” Wright’s classmate Liz Berger ’82 said at the reception.
Dennis has served as board secretary, treasurer, vice chair and chair on the AYA Board of Governors since 1998 and has been involved with the Yale Club of San Diego, where he sits on the Board of Directors, since his graduation, he said.
The most gratifying part of his work as an alumni has been watching the AYA evolve, especially with its increased outreach to special interest groups, he said.
About 100 to 200 alumni were in consideration for the award, Dean of Admissions Jeff Brenzel said.
“They bleed blue,” he said of the recipients at the reception.
This year’s AYA assembly, entitled “From Print to Pixel,” focused on digitization to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Yale University Press, Dollhopf said.
AYA assemblies are typically held over the weekend of the Harvard or Princeton home game.