The Association of Yale Alumni awarded the Yale Medal to five graduates Thursday night in recognition of their outstanding individual service to the University.

University President Richard Levin and AYA Chair Susanna Krentz ’80 presented the awards to Victor Chears ’74, Samuel Kushlan ’32 MED ’35, John Pepper Jr. ’60, Jon Steffensen ’68 and Vera Wells ’71. 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.

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“Yale’s most devoted servants are being honored here tonight,” Levin said before the ceremony began.

The medals were awarded during a gala dinner in Commons, part of the AYA’s annual three-day assembly.

The five recipients have supported Yale in a variety of ways, from serving on the Yale Corporation to helping current Yale students pay their tuition.

Kushlan, 95, has taught residents, medical students and physicians at the School of Medicine for almost 70 years ­— including on a volunteer basis after his retirement in 1982, he said. He said he still attends the “morning report” at Yale-New Haven Hospital, at which medical training residents meet to discuss difficulties that have occurred in the past 24 hours.

“It’s a learning experience for me, because they’re all so young and bright,” Kushlan said. “But every once in a while, I toss in a pearl to earn my keep.”

After serving as a member of the Yale Corporation ­— the University’s highest governing body — for eight years, Pepper became the vice president for finance and administration in 2005. During his two-year tenure, Pepper worked to ameliorate the University’s relationship with local labor unions.

Chears, who was elected to the AYA Board of Governors in 1988, said his time at Yale during the early 1970s helped him recognize the need for social activism. In the early 1980s, Chears served as the board chair of Yale’s Afro-American Cultural Center.

Chears’ classmate Steve Kase ’74, who attended the event, said Chears has been a role model for those around him.

“Victor is the kind of leader that every man looks up to, because he is a champion of humility and hope,” Kase said.

Wells said she began her efforts to incorporate women and racial minorities into the Yale community as a student when she helped bring professor Sylvia Ardyn Boone ­— who later became the first black woman to receive tenure at Yale — to campus.

Wells, who has helped raise funds to support the Afro-American Cultural Center and Women Faculty Forum, donated money to endow an undergraduate scholarship and a graduate-student prize in honor of Boone in 1996.

Steffensen has served as a member of the AYA board of governors, on which she acted as secretary in 1987, and a member of the University’s Honorary Degree Committee. A longtime member of the Yale Club of Boston, he is the chair of its scholarship trust, which raises money to cover Yale’s financial-aid grants to undergraduates in the Boston area.

At this year’s AYA assembly, AYA delegates, as well as members of alumni boards at the professional schools and alumni from past boards, will engage in discussions on the theme, “Yale in a Green World: Meeting the Challenge of Sustainability.”

One of the focal points of the assembly will be the unveiling of the AYA’s new strategic plan, AYA Director Mark Dollhopf said.

The AYA plans to focus more of its resources on supporting shared interest groups ­— which form around common identities or activities ­— and seven Yale clubs in major metropolitan areas, Dollhopf said. Such groups include include former members of the Yale Political Union to Yalies involved in real estate, Dollhopf said.

The AYA also intends to improve information-technology support — including Web site and e-mail assistance — for alumni groups, he said.

The strategic plan reflects the AYA’s recognition that increasing numbers of alumni are connecting with one another through these shared interest groups, Dollhopf said.

“We want to inspire our volunteers, and the best way you can do that is by helping them start something new,” he said.

This year’s five Yale Medal recipients were announced in June. The Yale Medal has been conferred upon 267 individuals since its inception in 1952.