'Stay positive': Student graduates at Chicago hospital after heart transplant

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A Munster, Indiana man just graduated despite overwhelming obstacles. He earned his master’s degree after undergoing a heart transplant.

Complications kept him from Thursday’s graduation at Indiana University. So, the graduation came to him.

“Pomp and Circumstance” plays as cameras click, but this clearly is not a common commencement. The grad wears a mask to keep out germs and doctors pack a room at the University of Chicago medical center.

The dean from Indiana University Northwest School of Business traveled to Chicago to present Joe Willis with his MBA. Willis earned it despite many obstacles. Heart disease led to a heart transplant when he was just 21.

Now about 2 years later, new complications put Willis back in the hospital.

“It's been tremendously hard, unbelievably hard but I find out people are very strong. You'd be surprised what you can do when you just have to stay positive and keep going and everything will work out,” Willis said.

Like most graduations, this ceremony does have a very proud mother.

“Words can't express - I just say hallelujah! I'm very proud, very proud of him today,” mother Beverly said.

The hospital was more than willing to host the celebration with doctors calling this day a victory.

“He always said, I’m going to graduate my master degree.’ And he did it. He did it between appointments, between hospitalization, between bad days, between good days,” said Dr. Nir Uriel.

Willis has plans for many good days ahead. He hopes to use his new diploma and new heart to get a job at a hospital, maybe working with a transplant team like the one that saved his life.