Aaron Dunigan was a popular senior and quarterback at Illinois' Thornton Fractional North High School and was set to play football at Southern Illinois University in the fall. But that all ended after he was killed in a car crash last weekend.
The 18-year-old was on his way back from prom when the car he was riding in crossed a median and crashed into a truck, NBC Chicago reported.
Another teen in the car, Mike Crowter, was badly injured, and the 56-year-old truck driver was also killed.
Driver David Peden was later charged with DUI causing death and reckless homicide with a motor vehicle.
On Wednesday, Dunigan's mom, Katherine Jackson, donned a cap and gown and attended the graduation ceremony that her son never got to see.
In an emotional moment, she also accepted her son's diploma for him. Jackson herself had never graduated.
“[My son] knows his mom never walked the stage,” she told NBC Chicago before the ceremony. “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.”
Jackson said she was given strength by all of the support from the prom king's many friends.
"My son has left a little piece of him in all of them," she said, "and every time I hug one of them I get a little piece of my baby back."
Though he was badly injured in the crash, Dunigan's friend, Mike Crowter, also attended the ceremony in a wheelchair.
As he stood and embraced Dunigan's mother, the two wiped away tears.
"Don't be sorry, baby," she told him. "Don't cry. This is a good thing."
District Superintendent Creg Williams encouraged the young graduates to think of Durigan and live their life to the fullest.
"While our hearts are heavy and while we are experiencing death and anguish, it’s still a time to celebrate because when tomorrow comes, you have to live,” he said.
Despite losing her son, the 45-year-old mom said she isn't harboring any anger at the boy who was driving the car he was riding in.
"I want to hold him and let him know that Aaron loves him too," she said. "It's nobody's fault."
Watch more on the story here:
BuzzFeed News has reached out to Jackson for comment.
Rachel Zarrell is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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