In a touching tribute at the 2024 Ivy Tech Indianapolis Commencement Ceremony, Louise M. Harris, honored her late son, Miguel Harris, by walking across the stage to receive his posthumous degree. This act of remembrance highlighted not only the personal loss of a promising life but also the communal mourning of a student who left a lasting impact on his peers and professors.

Miguel, 47, who passed away before he could complete his journey at Ivy Tech, was pursuing a culinary degree. His passion for cooking was evident, as he was already working as a chef while attending classes and in the beginning stages of opening his own restaurant, set to be called “Meaty’s BBQ Sandwiches.”

Louise explained her decision to participate in the ceremony, saying, "I felt really good. It was really emotional ... I was kind of happy and sad at the same time." 

Louise's involvement in the ceremony was initiated by Miguel's best friend of over 30 years, Christoffer Banks, who reached out to another close friend of Miguel’s, Denise Briles, the Academic Affairs and School of Arts, Sciences & Education Coordinator at Ivy Tech Bloomington. Briles “kept the ball rolling,” Louise said, until it reached Callie Smith, the Senior Administrative Assistant to the Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs, Dr. Claire Maxson. 

"Callie kept in contact with me and helped me prepare for the commencement. She made sure I was informed from beginning to end," Louise said, appreciative of Smith's assistance. 

The ceremony held an added layer of emotional significance as it coincidentally fell on Miguel's birthday. This poignant detail only heightened the impact of the moment for Louise. 

"I was really hesitant at first, but when I realized it was actually his birthday that day too ... I said, ‘I definitely have to do this,’" she reflected on the convergence of the commencement with this personal milestone.

This collective effort underscored the community's respect and admiration for Miguel and the desire to support his grieving family.

Remembered by his peers and professors as a helpful and enthusiastic member of the culinary program, Miguel's absence was deeply felt at the institution. Louise realized this, as many came up to her to share stories and memories of Miguel at commencement. 

"He loved going to school ... he already had so many other degrees, but when he wanted to be a chef, he thought, why not go to school and learn how to become one," Louise noted, adding that his teachers recalled his eagerness to assist classmates and his quick completion of projects.

Louise’s courageous choice to show up and walk across the commencement stage was a profound act of remembrance and love—a mother fulfilling her son's final academic achievement in his stead. Her strength and the support of the Ivy Tech Indianapolis community not only honored Miguel's memory but also underscored the impact of his life on those around him. As Louise poignantly captured the dual emotions of the day, her tribute stands as a reminder of the enduring bonds between a mother and her child and the lasting impressions a single life can make.

About Ivy Tech Community College

Ivy Tech Community College is Indiana's largest public postsecondary institution and the nation's largest singly accredited statewide community college system, accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Ivy Tech has campuses throughout Indiana and also serves thousands of students annually online. It serves as the state's engine of workforce development, offering associate degrees, long- and short-term certificate programs, industry certifications, and training that aligns with the needs of the community. The College provides a seamless transfer to other colleges and universities in Indiana, as well as out of state, for a more affordable route to a bachelor's degree.