Mother who attended every class with quadriplegic son surprised with honorary MBA

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A mother who walked closely alongside her quadriplegic son as he earned his MBA, stood by him as he accepted his degree on Saturday and was surprised with a special recognition herself.

Moments after she pushed her son's wheelchair across the stage, Judy O’Connor heard her name called out and Chapman University officials presented her with an honorary MBA. 

It was an emotional moment as a school official described the mother's critical role in her son's journey here: “Mrs. Judith O’Connor has attended all the classes with her son Marty," the officials said. "She has taken notes and worked with Marty throughout his academic career,” the official added.

"We were all crying," said university spokeswoman Sheri Ledbetter.

Both mother and son received a standing ovation.

Five years ago, Marty O'Connor was working in sales, traveling around the world, and making great strides in his career when he fell down a flight of stairs in an accident that changed his life forever.

He was left a quadriplegic.

“After I got hurt, I didn’t know which end was up,” Marty was quoted on Chapman University's blog.

His mother said she was in Florida at the time of the accident and couldn't stand the thought of not being there for her own child who was in need of help, so she joined his side to offer him support.

“I didn’t really have a direction. I was just dedicating myself to physical therapy five days a week," Marty said in Chapman's blog. "While my body was in a better place because of that, mentally, I was just kind of lost," he added.

Marty, who received his undergrad degree at the University of Colorado, decided to apply for Chapman's MBA program.

The former competitive snowboarder and volleyball player received a $10,000 a year grant from the Swim with Mike organization, a non-profit that provides scholarships for physically challenged athletes.

But there were huge obstacles Marty had to maneuver around as a disabled student.

Returning to school proved to be challenging even with special tools, including voice recognition software and a mouth stick.

“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,” Marty said in Champman's blog.

Taking notes was difficult, so mom took on that duty. She didn't miss a class, and at home she helped her son study. 

Chapman University officials said Marty was behind the idea to honor his mother with the special degree, telling them that she pretty much did all of the work he did to earn his MBA. 

He did not want to miss an opportunity to recognize her for her unrelenting dedication and the hard work she put in to help him reach his goal.