Augusta University’s Alumni Weekend is coming up Oct. 22-23 and will recognize the distinguished alumni and outstanding young alumni from last year’s canceled event. Among those being honored is former Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver.
Copenhaver graduated from Augusta College in 1991 with a bachelor’s degree in political science from Pamplin College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. He started at the University of Georgia, where he admitted getting to class was not always a priority — so he came back home to go to Augusta. The smaller class sizes and more hands-on approach were a big draw. They also eventually led to his political career.
“I told people the main thing I learned in getting a political science degree — if things were going to change, it would take a revolution,” said Copenhaver. “It gave me insight and the drive to want to help at the local level. I think if you’re really going to improve things in the world today, particularly politically, it’s got to start at the local level.”
Copenhaver never considered himself a politician, and remembers Dr. Ralph Walker telling him if you don’t love politics, don’t get involved. He was also told not to be too high- or low-brow. That part fit Copenhaver’s personality.
“One of the main things I learned was to engage at the grassroots level. I never put myself above anybody I served.”
It was this approach to politics that landed him in the mayor’s seat. It also led to common ground among the Augusta commissioners, who were rather divided at the time. Getting them to agree on something was nearly unheard of.
“There’s not a week that goes by that people don’t thank me for what I did. And it’s seven years out, I still get that, which is nice.”
After his political days, Copenhaver has been as busy as ever. He’s served as management consultant for the Augusta Economic Development Authority and is an executive coach, consultant, podcast host and author, having written The Changemaker: The Art of Building Better Leaders.
He’s using these platforms to bring people together on common ground. He tries to stay away from the negative and focus on the positive.
“To me, if you have to use fear and intimidation to get your desired outcome, that’s bullying, that’s not leadership,” said Copenhaver. “Leadership is rallying people around a common cause that’s bigger than themselves.”
It’s just one message he tries to instill in young people today.
“We need good leaders now. Leadership does not know an age at all. It takes a leap of faith and stepping outside of your comfort zone, which is not easy,” said Copenhaver. “It’s kind of like when I first ran for mayor. People said, why would you want to get involved in that? I’m like, I know one thing, if nobody tries to change it, it’s never going to change. So I encourage them to step out in faith and be willing to challenge the status quo.”
Those being honored during Alumni Weekend include:
- Sara Haddow Liebel
- Katherine Sylvester
- Emmanuel “Manny” Ngoh
- Ben Jernigan, Jr.
- Jacqueline Delash
- Hardy Gray
- Phillip Roberts
- Sam Richwine
- Koosh Desai
- Annette Bourgault
- Gwendolyn Fryer
- Jessica Wright
- Sean Petro
- Chaundra Creekmur
- Monica Adams
- Steven Cauthron
- Thomas Fuller
- Sarah Murray
Pamplin College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences
- Deke Copenhaver
- Fady Adel Tawadrous
- Kacee Camp Morris