The Bride Wore Her High School Graduation Cap and Gown

For some people, it takes a lifetime to learn that life is filled with surprises. For others, it may only take a year, a month, a week, or even a day, for life to teach this truth. However, for a very lucky few, like C.T. and Helen Burgess, this truth came as no surprise.
Without a doubt, the Burgesses have witnessed a few unexpected and unplanned moments during their 60-year marriage. But, none of those moments compared to the surprise they staged on the unsuspecting town of Wedowee, Alabama in 1950.

Clement Thomas, better known as C.T., was fresh out of college and in his first teaching and coaching job at Randolph County High School in Wedowee, when he met who he still says is “the most beautiful lady I had ever seen.” Her name was Helen Dodson, a young woman preparing to graduate from the high school.

A few months later, with the blessings of their parents, the assistance of the school’s principal, George Yarbrough, and the urging of Yarbrough’s wife, who was Dodson’s senior sponsor, the couple began to set the stage for their surprise.

“I resisted going along with this idea for the longest,” Helen recalls, “but Mrs. Yarbrough kept at me until I finally gave in.”

With Helen on board, the plan was finalized.

The location would be Randolph County High School. The date, Thursday night, May 11, 1950. And the setting, Dodson’s graduation ceremony.

C.T. remembers that night well.

Helen, a member of Randolph County High School’s senior class, walked gracefully across the stage and accepted her diploma, he says. Then several minutes later, but before the graduation exercise concluded with congratulatory hugs between proud graduates and their families and friends, the school’s principal informed the crowd that there was one bit of unfinished business.

That’s when Burgess, agriculture teacher Bevis Traylor, Mrs. Yarbrough, and Dodson’s sister Lucy, assembled in front of the stage.

“Only the people involved knew what was going on,” C.T. fondly remembers. “Somehow we managed to keep our surprise a secret.”

But that was only until the school’s music teacher began playing traditional wedding music and the Rev. Otis Fincher stepped forward.

With her graduating class in the background, half the town in attendance, and her twin brother, Clellan, there to give her away, Miss Helen Dodson became Mrs. Helen Burgess.

“Coach C.T. Burgess, Jr. and Miss Helen Dodson Are Wed In Surprise Ceremony” was the headline in the town’s local newspaper. “The bride was lovely in her cap and gown, traditional symbols of graduation. She carried a small white Testament showered with tube roses caught in white ribbon streamers,” the article went on to describe the blushing bride.

When the Burgesses’ family and friends came together to celebrate the couple’s 60th wedding anniversary a few years ago, the celebration was well deserved. It was a lovely, heartwarming, and blessed occasion. However, guests were warned not to be surprised if the couple’s oldest son Terry stood and announced, “There is still a bit of unfinished business.”

Luckily, there were no surprises