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Video: Michael Collins legacy honored with diploma, license plate

The parents of an Illinois State senior whose death last month sparked a nationwide “pay it forward” campaign were presented with his diploma Monday, as they joined Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White in urging others to register as organ donors—just like their son did.

Senior exercise science major Michael Collins died April 2 following a car crash that also injured three others. Collins would have walked at this weekend’s spring commencement. On Monday, Illinois State President Larry Dietz gave his diploma to Collins’ parents, Jim and Kelly, and brother Jimmy.

“Michael was, and will always be, part of our Illinois State University family,” Dietz said, calling him an “inspiring young man whose life was cut short by tragedy.”

Illinois State student Michael Collins died April 2 following a car crash.

Illinois State student Michael Collins died April 2 following a car crash.

Michael played and coached baseball, and he missed his high school graduation ceremony because he had a game, Kelly Collins said during Monday’s presentation at Bone Student Center.

“He wanted to walk this weekend. And there was nobody more deserving than my son to walk this weekend,” she said. “We are truly honored and humbled to be here today.”

In the weeks since Collins’ death, a chain of random acts of kindness has spread across the country, documented by a Facebook page with nearly 20,000 followers and the hashtag #MCStrong. Illinois State students and alumni are part of that chain too, buying free meals for strangers and making other gifts.

#MCStrong supporters say Collins himself was the first to pay it forward, by deciding to become an organ donor in Illinois. Around 200 people have benefitted from Collins’ organs and tissue in some way, including a New York woman whose sight was restored thanks to his donation.

“It was the gift of sight for her, and a gift of eternal life for Michael,” said Kelly Collins.

As secretary of state, White oversees Illinois’ donor registry and was on campus Monday to present Collins’ family with a personalized Illinois State license plate bearing their son’s initials “MEC,” in recognition of his organ and tissue donations.

White called Collins a hero for deciding to become a donor. The Illinois registry has more than more than 5.5 million people signed up, but about 300 people still die each year waiting for a transplant. White also urged motorists to not drink and drive; the woman who allegedly caused the Bloomington crash that killed Collins now faces drunken driving charges.

“As a result of Michael’s giving and caring spirit, his memory will live on through the individuals he saved through organ and tissue donation,” White said. (You can sign up at

Referencing the New York woman’s restored vision, Kelly Collins said her son’s death was a reminder for others to “not to be blind” to acts of kindness or to the effects of drinking. She closed her remarks Monday by thanking her son, who transferred to Illinois State from Heartland Community College, for the “life you lived and the choices you made.”

“You didn’t just dare to live an uncommon life. You proved it every single day,” she said. “We love you, and will forever be united as #MCStrong.”

Learn more about The Michael Collins Foundation at

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Ryan Denham can be reached at