Although the Yale School of Management has yet to reach its 25th birthday, SOM graduates have already risen as the cream of the business world crop.

SOM honored U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Arthur Levitt SOM ’78 Thursday with its first annual Award for Distinguished Leadership in Global Capital Markets.

In the spacious New York Public Library, national leaders from General Electric chief executive John F. Welch Jr. to Texas Sen. Phil Gramm gathered to reward Levitt, a member of SOM’s first graduating class, for his work at the SEC. The event linked the young business school with the upper echelon of the country’s financial and political worlds, as part of SOM’s ongoing campaign to raise the school’s prestige.

First appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, then reappointed in 1998, Levitt is the longest-serving chairman of the SEC. The commission oversees the regulations that protect American investors and maintain the integrity of securities markets.

“The award to Arthur Levitt reflects the Yale School of Management’s perspective that leadership in global capital markets begins with technical expertise,” SOM Dean Jeffrey Garten said. “But [it] extends far beyond, to include an understanding of the powerful global forces reshaping our society and the courage to make decisions even in the face of enormous uncertainties.”

The ceremony was the first in a series of annual meetings designed both to commemorate notable business leaders and to provide a forum for discussion of global capital markets. The ceremony is the newest of SOM’s attempts to connect with the elite of the international business world.

“There’s no question that the publicity is good for the school,” Deputy Dean Stan Garstka said.

Since Jeffrey Garten’s appointment as dean in 1995, the School of Management has vigorously sought to place itself among the country’s top business schools. The SOM Award for Distinguished Leadership in Global Capital Markets is closely connected with the school’s new Leaders Forum, which brings business leaders to the Yale campus to meet with students and talk with faculty. Recent Leaders Forum guests have included America Online CEO Stephen Case and investor George Soros.

“We want to begin to show the dilemmas and problems of leadership from the perspective of a leader,” Garstka said. “And this is a good time for us — most of corporate power is in rapid change.”