For Judy O'Connor, helping her son achieve his dream of earning a master's degree in business administration is just something that any mother would do. Little did she realize that by attending every class to help her quadriplegic son take notes and complete exams, she would also earn a degree in the process. But that's just what happened when officials at Chapman University recently decided to award O'Connor with an honorary MBA thanks to her dedication and support.
Five years ago, Marty O'Connor, Judy's son, was working as a sales rep and jet-setting on adventures around the world when a fall down the stairs changed his life. Marty became a quadriplegic, and while he dedicated himself to strenuous physical therapy five days a week to rebuild his body, he knew he also needed something to strive for mentally.
Marty already had an undergraduate business degree from the University of Colorado, so he decided to pursue a master's degree in his field. Thanks to $10,000 scholarship from Swim With Mike, an organization established to honor All-American swimmer Mike Nyeholt, who was paralyzed in a motorcycle crash in 1981, O'Connor was financially able to go back to school. But he knew that without the ability to write or raise his hand to ask questions, it would be difficult to attend college classes.
That's where Judy came in. Knowing her son would need help, Judy retired from her job as a teacher in Florida and moved to southern California to help her son earn his degree at Chapman University.
For the next two years, Judy attended every class alongside Marty, taking notes for him and helping him communicate with his teachers. So when the time came for Marty to earn his diploma, Marty talked to the school administrators and convinced them that his mom deserved her own master's degree.
Last weekend, as Judy O'Connor prepared to push her son's wheelchair across the stage at Chapman University's graduation, she got a surprise when the graduation announcer, choking through tears, announced that the school's faculty, administrators and board of trustees had decided to also give her an honorary MBA.
A self-professed "geek," mama O'Connor told reporters that she "loved every minute" of attending classes with her son and helping him earn his degree.
"As a mom, you just want to help your kids get through things," Judy O'Connor said. "I always believed in him. I knew he could do it and I just wanted to have his back."