Autistic student gets surprise visit from older brother during senior class ring ceremony

Video and photo provided by the Burgess family.
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POSTED: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - 11:15am

UPDATED: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - 3:55pm

Senior year is a milestone for any high school student, but for Thad Burgess, it’s an achievement that has required a great deal of strength and courage to accomplish. Thad is autistic, so class has been a challenge for him. He learned how to be strong and keep pushing forward from his brother, Christopher, who is in the Navy.

On Friday, May 19, Thad woke up at 5:30 a.m. with palpable anticipation. He was getting his senior class ring. To finally gain the accomplishment was something that seemed too good to be true.

He was wrong.

Cheers rang out at Crowley High School when Thad’s older brother, Christopher, walked in to the ceremony.

“We had no idea he was coming,” Shanna Burgess, mother of the two boys, recalled with excitement. “It was a total shock for him because he misses his brother severely. He cries every time he leaves. That’s his big brother.”

Christopher has been in the Navy for the past three years and is only able to make the trip home from Virginia a couple of times each year. Friday’s visit was an unscheduled surprise arranged by his father.

“I have to give him all the credit. His dad set the whole thing up,” Shanna explained.

For Thad, the ring ceremony was an event he has waited a very long time to experience. At 21-years-old, Thad is now in the home stretch to finish high school.

“He’s very independent and he can do a lot of things on his own, but he can’t participate in regular class because he gets off track a lot,” Shanna said. “He doesn’t qualify for mainstreaming. But he’s very social and he’s very well loved and liked at school.”

Shanna admitted that Thad does occasionally have a very difficult time. The school’s baseball coach has proven to be a great support during those rough patches.

“Coach Doddie - he’s Thad’s mentor,” Shanna explained. “He’s really taken him under his wing. He’s taught him how to help out with things. And anytime Thad’s having a bad day, they get Coach Doddie and he’s able to calm him down.”

Appropriately enough, Coach Doddie was one of the few who was in on the big surprise.

“The only ones who knew he [Christopher] was there was the one announcing, Coach Doddie, and a couple of teachers. But nobody else knew Christopher was there.”

Having his whole family, his mentor, and the friends who support him there for his big moment meant the world to Thad. For those who got the chance to share in the moment, it was just as special.

“Afterward, everyone said it was the best ring ceremony Crowley has ever had.”

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