Courtesy Isaiah Chauhan

There’s a reason the old saying “It takes a village to raise a child” is still so popular. It’s because, no matter what people tell you, growing up into a functioning, independent adult doesn’t happen alone. There are so many people—friends, teachers, parents, mentors, strangers—that help you along the way.

Recently, a viral photo that captured the essence of “it takes a village” took the internet by storm.

The viral photo, originally posted on Reddit, showed a young man in his graduation cap and gown, grinning proudly next to a woman in Subway uniform.

“My favorite graduation photo that I took,” the photo was captioned. “This woman at my campus’ Subway kept me fed for 4 years, and when I was low on money, she came through for me. I’ll never take her for granted”.

“I was quite literally there nearly every day of my college life,” the young man, named Isaiah Chauhan, told mitú. “And that Subway was undoubtedly a cornerstone for my college experience.”

The photo became a Reddit sensation, garnering almost 70,000 upvotes and over 500 comments.

People flocked to the comments section to reiterate the message that accomplishing something—anything—is always the result of many people pitching in to help you along the way.

The top-rated comment summed up the sentiment perfectly: “When you come to the realization that you never succeed entirely on your own and that actually the impact of others is the reason you are where you are, then you have truly succeeded. Congratulations on your achievement.”

The young man in the photo, Isaiah Chauhan, told mitú that he wasn’t necessarily surprised at how viral the photo went.

Chauhan, who got an English degree with a communications minor from the University of Illinois Chicago, had already posted the picture on his private UIC Class of 2021 page. His fellow students encouraged him to post the photo to the public. And the rest is internet history.

But Reddit wasn’t the only place that the photo blew up. It soon popped up on platforms like UpWorthy and Ranker. And no matter where it appeared, folks were touched by the special relationship Isaiah had with the Subway worker.

Chauhan explained to mitú that, although people thought that the Subway lady gave him free food, that wasn’t the case.

“When I said ‘She came through for me,’ it was never about her spotting me for meals or anything,” he said. “It was more so a reference to the reliable $3 Sub of the Day, and how she was always a positive presence when I was feeling down. When I needed a friendly face, I knew she got me.”

Chauhan wants to make clear that her friendliness never cost the Subway she worked at any money. “I never received free food, but their friendliness, familiarity, and making me feel at home meant way more to me especially since I was a commuter. I was quite literally there nearly every day of my college life, and that Subway was undoubtedly a cornerstone for my college experience.” (And for those of you who are wondering, his go-to order was the Rotisserie Chicken sub which is, sadly, now discontinued).

Chauhan believes that the photo resonated with folks so much because of how overlooked people in the food industry usually are.

“A lot of people take for granted the essential workers and especially food service workers that we’re surrounded by every day,” he told mitú. “I, like many other college students, eat fast food nearly every day and they’re people I interact with more than most people… As someone who’s worked in the fast-food industry before, it’s not easy; it’s exhausting work and it’s a very underpaid, overlooked and underappreciated role in society.”

Above all, Chauhan recognizes the importance of acknowledging the folks who help you accomplish your dreams.

“You are giving back to the people who brought you to your success,” he said. “Oftentimes they are debts that can’t be paid—I owe that Subway so much and more—but the first step is recognizing and thanking them for everything they do, and figuring out ways to improve their conditions and overall lives.”