Mom earns honorary MBA after attending every class with quadriplegic son

Facebook/Chapman University

Just two years after finishing his undergraduate degree at University of Colorado – Boulder, then-22-year-old Marty O’Connor fell down a flight of stairs and became a quadriplegic.

Despite being paralyzed from the neck down, Marty, now 29, didn’t stop seeking higher education. On May 20, he graduated with an MBA from Chapman University in California. And his mom, who attended every class with him, was awarded an honorary MBA at graduation as well.

Judy O’Connor attended class with her son to help him take notes and write in test answers. A graduate herself from the business school at Notre Dame, Judy said she loved being in college again.

“I’m a geek,” she told the Chapman University blog. “I love being in school. I’m not going to lie. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

And in recognition of her hard work in helping Marty achieve his MBA, the university awarded her an honorary degree as well. As she pushed Marty’s wheelchair across the stage, the graduation announcer called her a “special individual” as the crowd cheered and applauded.

“Mrs. Judith O’Connor has attended all the classes with her son Marty,” the announcer said. “She has taken notes and worked with Marty throughout his academic career.”

The degree was a surprise, and it was all Marty’s idea.

“I was just so excited for her because she deserved it so much,” Marty told Los Angeles station KTLA.

Marty attended Chapman with the help of a $10,000 annual scholarship through the Swim With Mike organization, which was created in honor of USC All-American swimmer Mike Nyeholt, who was paralyzed after a motorcycle crash in 1981. Judy was working in Florida as a teacher at the time of Marty’s accident, but returned to California to help her son.

“As a mom, you just want to help your kids get through things,” Judy told KTLA. “I always believed in him. I knew he could do it and I just wanted to have his back.”

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Jessica Suss
Current high-school English teacher, native Chicagoan, and nut butter enthusiast moonlighting as a writer.

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