Vernon Hills High School graduate Jonathon Jimenez crossed the stage during Friday's commencement ceremony knowing he helped make the event special for a classmate.
As a way to give back to the peers who helped him through the years, Jimenez paid for a financially struggling senior's cap and gown. He doesn't know the beneficiary's identity, nor does the recipient know where the money came from.
"I (got) a well-paying job recently and thought it was time to give a little back," said Jimenez, 18, of Vernon Hills.
He was among an estimated 325 members of the Class of 2017 who donned silver caps and gowns to cross the stage Friday at the high school.
Jimenez actually graduated in December and has finished a semester at the College of Lake County, but he was able to participate in commencement.
The caps and gowns cost each graduate or their parents $56. The gowns are rentals, but the caps belong to the graduates.
Jimenez initially intended to pay for a close friend's gear but later learned she didn't need the cash, So he went to school officials and offered to help a stranger.
"We thought it was very generous," Assistant Principal Greg Stilling said.
Normally when a teen can't afford the cap-and-gown fee, Vernon Hills High officials get the cash from a special account held by the District 128 Foundation for Learning or a Lake County group called the Mothers Trust Foundation.
No one is prevented from participating in commencement if they can't afford the fee, Stilling said.
"We have always been able to find a way to make sure all our kids can cross the stage," he said.
But this time, Jimenez's donation covered one teen's fee.
"I had earned this money working a part-time job as a waiter," he said. "I used the tips I earned to pay for it."
Jimenez's mom, Heather Roman, said she was "absolutely in tears" when Jimenez told her of his plan to help a classmate financially.
"I'm so proud," she said. "He's always been a kind, caring and compassionate young adult."
Jimenez said it's comforting to know all of his classmates were dressed in silver and were ready to graduate Friday.
He said he doesn't need to know who benefited from his altruism.
"It doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things," said Jimenez, who wants to be a teacher.
"It just feels good to do a nice deed."