06/17/2013 04:48 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

From College to Community: Fostering Service for Life

May and June are high season for college commencements and alumni reunions. Here at Yale, we recently conferred degrees to our newest alumni/ae - 3,000+ bright scholars in a wide variety of disciplines, who came from across the nation and around the globe, now off to work, innovate, serve and study. We also welcomed home over 6,000 alumni/ae for Yale College reunions of graduates from 1948 to 2003.

All of our more than 160,000 graduates share an ongoing bond with alma mater -- and that at commencement they are told that their degrees admit them to "rights and responsibilities."

The use of "responsibilities" is faithful to Yale's original charter of more than 300 years ago as a school that educates students for service to society. In his final address to seniors last month, outgoing Yale President Richard Levin urged them to apply what they learned on campus to "make a difference to others -- to your families and your causes larger than your own personal fulfillment."

This spirit of service is being renewed this century; Yale is in the vanguard of a movement by universities to urge alumni to give back -- not just to their school, but on behalf of their school though active engagement in local communities nonprofits.

Traditional alumni relations focused on ways to keep graduates connected with each other and with alma mater, and to encourage them to support the university with gifts of their time as volunteers and their treasure as donors. These roles remain absolutely vital -- America's universities are an inspiration to the world in no small measure because of how they can sustain themselves for future generations thanks to the generosity of current alumni.

But now there's more, much more, to alumni relations. Universities now recognize that they, their alumni and society at large all benefit when alumni associations actively encourage graduates to serve their home communities.

Every school child knows the words recited by Yale's most famous revolutionary war patriot, Nathan Hale, Class of 1773, "I have but one life to lose for my country..." But perhaps his most profound utterance was his call to giving back to society, "I wish to be useful..."

As Mark Dollhopf, a 1977 Yale graduate and the executive director of our Yale alumni association, notes "Effective alumni relations fosters strong communities of leaders who wish to convey to this and future generations that giving back to society is what really matters. It's not only treasure that matters; time and talent matter, too."

That is why the Association of Yale Alumni, for the fifth year, sponsored a global "Yale Day of Service" on May 11, 2013, with over 3,500 alumni/ae, family, and friends coming together for community projects at nearly 250 sites, in 40 states and 20 countries, with work ranging from park restoration to hunger relief to career counseling and youth mentoring.

The impact of the Yale Day of Service is not merely the good work accomplished on one weekend. By design, it is an effort to uphold and catalyze service and connection to communities year-round, and our alumni association's staff and volunteer leaders support a growing array of service projects throughout the other 364 days of the year. Later this month, dozens of Yale graduates will spend a week working with College Summit in West Virginia, for example, while in August nearly 200 Yale alumni will engage in community development and cultural exchange projects in Ghana. Yale groups from YaleWomen, to the Yale Black Alumni Association and the Yale Alumni Association of New York, among many others, sponsor service efforts throughout the year.

According to Dollhopf, "President Levin and his peers at universities throughout the nation underscore the responsibility students have to society in addresses at the start of every school year and at commencement exercises. Alumni associations should back them up. We should foster a community that assumes the responsibility of citizenship for life. As an alumni family, we are in this together. Education is a gift that must be passed on if it is to have meaning. Alumni associations have a new-found role: to inspire alumni to action and to provide a model for alumni engagement."

Here in New Haven, and at a growing number of universities, the Association of Yale Alumni and its counterparts at other colleges and universities have crossed a threshold in alumni relations, moving from just providing services to alumni to also calling alumni to service.

Michael Morand is a graduate of Yale College and the Yale Divinity School. He volunteers his time in service to the New Haven Free Public Library and is part of the Yale Alumni Service Corps.