High school graduation is supposed to be a time of joy and celebration for the graduates and their loved ones. But for one high school, it’s been a tragically somber occasion. Thornton Fractional North High School in Chicago recently lost one of their graduating seniors, 18-year-old quarterback Aaron Dunigan, just days before he was due to graduate.

Last weekend, Aaron was on his way home from prom with two other friends. One of them, David Peden, was driving the car while allegedly under the influence, according to reports, and it drifted over a median, crashing into a truck, killing Aaron and badly injuring fellow passenger Mike Crowter. The driver of the truck, Juan Rivera, was also killed in the tragic accident.

Aaron’s mother, Katherine Jackson, was completely heartbroken over this unspeakable tragedy—but she decided that since her son wouldn’t be there to walk during his graduation on Wednesday, she would take his place. “[My son] knows his mom never walked the stage,” she told NBC Chicago. “I’m going to be his legs and he’s going to be my wings and we’re going to go up there and get our diploma.”

So, donning a cap and gown, Katherine bravely walked up the aisle and received her son’s diploma in his place. Also attending was an emotional Mike, in a wheelchair with a bandage wrapped around his head. “Don’t cry,” Katherine told a tearful Mike at the ceremony, hugging him. “This is a good day.”

Aaron had been planning on attending and playing football for Southern Illinois University in the fall. Though his friends and peers were happy to graduate, it was an incredibly bittersweet day. “I just wish he was here so we’d all celebrate together,” student Jasmine Bailey told NBC.

“My son has left a piece of him inside of all of them,” Katherine told NBC, “and every time I hug one of them, I get a little piece of my baby back. . . All of this was divinely orchestrated by my son.”

The driver of the vehicle was charged with DUI causing death and reckless homicide, according to NBC. “This has to be a moment of celebration and learning,” the school’s superintendent Creg Williams said during the event. “Let their incident not be in vain. Be safe.”

Just at the brink of one of the happiest moments of Aaron’s life, he was taken away. Our hearts are with the students and faculty of Thorton, and with Aaron’s family during this awful time. But we are completely blown away by the bravery of Katherine and her amazing act of honor for her son.

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