Shenandoah University presented one of its top honors, the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, to seniors Brittany Butcher and Nicholas Ruxton as well as retired Professor of Religion and Philosophy John Copenhaver, Ph.D., during the university’s Commencement ceremony held on Saturday, May 10.
Sullivan awards are given each year to one graduating woman and one graduating man, as well as one non-student selected from the faculty, staff or board of trustees. The awards are given to individuals of “noble character” whose “fine spiritual qualities” are “practically applied to daily living.” The awards are presented to those who go “outside the narrow circle of self-interest” and invest themselves in the well-being of others – individuals who are “constant reminders to us of those high qualities which ennoble and beautify living.”
The award was established in 1925 by the New York Southern Society, which specifies the criteria for the award should be understood as “distinct from high scholarship, athletic achievement, success in business, professional ability, political leadership or mere worldly prominence in any calling.”
Butcher, a native of Cave Creek, Arizona, earned a Bachelor of Science in kinesiology with an emphasis in exercise science. She also minored in biology and business administration. She was presented with the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award because of her spirited life, her investment in the well-being of others, and her leadership and dedication to Shenandoah University.
During her time at the university, Butcher worked as a resident assistant, head resident assistant and resident director for the Office of Residential Life. She served as president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and as a Student Ambassador, was a two-time captain of the women’s soccer team, and was a member of Phi Epsilon Kappa and Students Helping Honduras.
She has spearheaded the “Cans Across Campus” food drive, volunteered as a mentor with the Youth Development Center, served the Hungry Hearts Program with the Salvation Army and Shenandoah’s Office of Spiritual Life, participated in the university’s Partnership With Community Day, built homes with Habitat for Humanity, worked with Ronald McDonald House Charities and coached youth soccer through Shenandoah and the Blue Ridge Youth Soccer Association.
“It was an honor to receive the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award,” said Butcher. “I can’t even begin to express my appreciation, shock and excitement to have received the award.”
Ruxton, a native of Chesterfield, Virginia, earned a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication and a JustFaith Christian Leadership certificate. He was presented with the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award because he is one who gives his all, serves others and beautifies living.
Ruxton was described by multiple nominees as a “highly motivated and confident individual.” He was active across campus as a leader for SU Outdoors and the JustFaith Christian Leadership program. He served as a First-Year Seminar mentor, and was a member of the 2011 Global Citizen Project Australia team, the Wednesday Night Live worship band, the SU Media Productions team and the Omicron Delta Kappa leadership honor society. He completed United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) Disaster Relief Early Responder Training and co-led a mission trip to work with Bahamas Methodist Habitat.
One nomination described a day in the life of Nick Ruxton saying, “The last time I saw Nick was on a mass communications field trip when a small group of majors and faculty went to the Newseum in Washington, D.C. The trip might not have even taken place had Nick not assumed the responsibility of driving the university van. Not only did he get us there safely, he got us there in good spirits. After spending a full day in D.C. and incurring the stress of driving back to Winchester during rush hour, Nick devoted the rest of his evening to Shenandoah’s ‘Living in a Box’ fundraiser, where he spent the night outside on the quad raising money for the Winchester Area Temporary Thermal Shelter.”
“I feel very honored to receive this award,” said Ruxton. “It is a good feeling to know that I was nominated and thought of when this award was brought up.”
Dr. Copenhaver, a native of Roanoke, Virginia, spent his entire 27-year teaching career at Shenandoah University. He was presented with the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award because he is one who truly “ennobles and beautifies living,” who “invests themselves in the well-being of others,” and one who exemplifies the spirit of Shenandoah University.
Copenhaver’s contributions for teaching have been widely recognized, and in 1992, he was honored with an Exemplary Teaching Award by the General Board of Higher Education of the United Methodist Church. In 1999, he developed and taught a course called In Search of Humanity in collaboration with colleagues in biology and psychology, for which he won an award from the Templeton Foundation.
Just last year, the university’s board of trustees passed a Resolution of Appreciation honoring Copenhaver for his leadership, service and advocacy of diversity in international programs. For 17 years, Copenhaver served as chair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy. During that time, he oversaw development of the Christian Leadership Program and the subsequent JustFaith Christian Leadership Program with fellow Professor of Religion Barry Penn-Hollar, Ph.D.
In the Winchester community, he has served as an indispensable catalyst for interfaith understanding and cooperation, most notably as president of the Valley Interfaith Council since 2001. Copenhaver also served the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church as co-convener of the Virginia chapter of the Methodist Federation of Social Action (MFSA) from 2002 to 2008, and he effectively introduced Shenandoah students to both philosophy and religious thought.
Copenhaver has submitted numerous petitions to the Virginia Annual Conference to confront the injustices of torture, capital punishment, predatory lending and many more. He also serves as the regional coordinator of the “Altar for All” movement in the United Methodist Church that offers to officiate at marriages for any prepared couple regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
“It is wonderful to end my full-time teaching career with the affirmation of colleagues and students,” said Copenhaver. “I remember, in my twenties, sensing a call to a career of teaching religion at a relatively small university where I might make a positive contribution to the lives of students and to the community. I’m deeply grateful that Shenandoah University has given me the opportunity to live this calling.”