After Helping Her Quadriplegic Son Graduate From Business School, This Mom Received An Honorary Degree Of Her Own

"It is impossible to not notice that kind of effort and dedication that she was showing in helping me prepare."

At Chapman University's graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 20, the college handed out many Master of Business Administration (MBA) degrees to its students — and one honorary degree to a particularly dedicated mom.


Judy O'Connor attended every single class and took painstaking notes with her son, Marty O'Connor, for two years. O'Connor became her son's caregiver and study buddy after he fell down a flight of stairs in August 2012 that left him a quadriplegic. "After I got hurt, I didn't know which end was up… I didn't really have a direction. I was just dedicating myself to physical therapy five days a week," Marty O'Connor told Chapman University in a recent interview. "While my body was in a better place because of that … I needed that mental challenge and wanted to add some professional value to myself."

Before his accident, O'Connor worked as a traveling salesman with a degree from the University of Colorado. With a renewed sense of determination, he began looking into MBA programs and enrolled in Chapman's Argyros School of Business and Economics

 "I didn't know how going back to school without being able to write, or use my hands, or raise my hand in class, any of that, would go," O'Connor explained. "But I think it really kind of challenged me to do some introspection and see what strengths I do have to utilize, and how I can use my situation to work on some new strengths." 

Though he works with an iPad, laptop, voice recognition software and a mouth stick, or special stylus, O'Connor is still unable to take notes in class or write down answers on tests. 

That’s where his mom, a retired elementary school teacher with a business degree from Notre Dame and self-proclaimed “geek,” has been of unparalleled help.

She moved across the country to care for him, putting her life on her hold to ensure her son could live his life to the fullest. "It is impossible to not notice that kind of effort and dedication that she was showing in helping me prepare," O'Connor told HuffPost in an email.

But he wasn’t the only person he wanted to notice. To show her —  and his whole graduating class — his appreciation, O’Connor nominated his mom to receive an honorary degree from Chapman.

At the ceremony, Judy O'Connor was "trying to stay in the background," she later told KTLA, when she was "totally blown away" by the unexpected mention of her name. "Mrs. Judith O'Connor has attended all the classes with her son Marty," the announcer told the assembled graduates and parents. "She has taken notes and worked with Marty throughout his academic career." 

O'Connor received her honorary degree mere moments after helping her son receive his. "As a mom, you just want to help your kids get through things," she added to the local news channel. "I've always believed in him, and I knew he could do it, and I just wanted to have his back."

She undoubtedly still will — even as O'Connor begins his career at DIVERTcity, a sports startup company, aided by a professional assistant. According to Chapman, she plans on taking some time off for some well-deserved rest. 

While O'Connor takes on the next phase of his life, he will also continue to oversee the Marty O'Connor Foundation for Progress, his nonprofit organization providing "access to the substantial support and care" to people with debilitating injuries. And if the last two years are any indication, Mrs. O'Connor will most likely be just as involved in the family-run organization. 

(H/T: HuffPost)


Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest news and exclusive updates.