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Mom Accepts Late Son's High School Diploma in His Cap and Gown

The Short of It

After 18-year-old Aaron Dunigan died in a drunk-driving accident last weekend, his mother accepted his diploma at his high school graduation ceremony on Wednesday while wearing his cap and gown.

The Lowdown

Dunigan, a high school senior and football quarterback, was a passenger in a car driven by his friend, David Peden, when it crashed on their way home from prom in the south suburbs of Chicago. A third passenger, Mike Crowter, was badly injured in the crash. The three classmates were scheduled to graduate Wednesday from Thornton Fractional North High School.

Instead, Dunigan's mom, Katherine Jackson, sat among the students at the graduation ceremony wearing her late son's cap and gown.

"[My son] knows his mom never walked the stage," she said of Dunigan, who was preparing to play football for Southern Illinois University in the fall. "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."

The crash also killed 56-year-old Juan Rivera, who was driving the car that Peden crashed into after crossing the median. Peden has been charged with DUI causing death and reckless homicide with a motor vehicle.

The Upshot

Although the number of drunk driving deaths in the United States has been cut in half since Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) was founded in 1980, every day 28 people die as a result of drunk driving crashes, according to statistics compiled by MADD. More work needs to be done to stop both teens and adults from driving while under the influence.

"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."

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