On a sultry Sunday in Des Plaines, the 2011 graduating class of Maine West High School gathered in their caps and gowns in the middle of the school's football stadium and listened to speeches laced with thoughts about the journey ahead.
For many of them, the future was as bright and clean as the sky above. At one point, students even tossed around a beach ball.
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But in the middle of the ceremony, Principal Audrey Haugan paused the festivities to remember one who will not be making that journey.
Seventeen-year-old Choice Taylor's life was taken in November by a hit-and-run driver near his Des Plaines home. Choice was walking home after working a shift at the Jewel-Osco grocery store when he was hit. The driver sped off, and was never caught.
"In a moment's time, in just a flash, a young life was lost to a tragic accident. Choice Taylor lost his life in just a blink of an eye," Haugan said, her voice cracking.
On Sunday, Choice's mother, Loreene Taylor, received an honorary diploma on her son's behalf.
Taylor was hugged by her son Chance -- Choice's twin brother who was also graduating Sunday -- along with other Maine West students and staff as she walked down the aisle and received flowers.
A hush swept the crowd, the silence punctuated by the cries of a few birds.
"How I wish my son (Choice) was here. How I wish they were honoring him in other ways for other accomplishments," Loreene Taylor said.
She recalled how hard the family worked to reach this day, and the mixed emotions she felt: proud to see Chance receive his diploma but heartbroken Choice wasn't there, even though she believed he was there in spirit.
"I'm just so sad that he is not here physically to enjoy his moment," she said. "We were up late nights doing homework. I was studying with him. We worked hard for this day."
Choice wanted to be a computer technician, and loved bass fishing, chess and anime.
"He was very artsy. Loved to draw," his mother said.
With diploma in hand, Chance now plans to pursue a career in law enforcement. Since he was eight years old, he's been addicted to the TV show "America's Most Wanted," his mom said.
Following the graduation, the Taylor family planned to go to Choice's gravesite with flowers.
"We're going to let Choice know, 'I got your diploma here, son,'" she said, adding that she plans to take it home and frame it.
Loreene Taylor is still hopeful the driver who killed her son will come forward and do the right thing by apologizing.
"The person knows that they came in contact with something," she said. "They may not have known that it was someone."
She also reflected on the roller coaster of emotions brought on by Sunday's graduation ceremony.
"I've got so many emotions going on inside of me. I'm happy for my son Chance. I'm elated. It's a great accomplishment for him," she said. "But it's also sad because my son Choice could not be here in person to receive it himself. And not only could he not be here in person, he will never be here in a physical sense again."