Judy O’Connor was in for a surprise as she stood by her son, Marty O’Connor, during the graduation ceremony at Chapman University. She thought she was just there to support her son – little did she know, she was going to be receiving a diploma herself.
Marty became paralyzed in 2012, after a fall down a flight of stairs resulted in a spinal cord injury. Previously, he had worked as a salesman for a packing industry company, and he had received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado.
“After I got hurt, I didn’t know which end was up,” said Marty. “I didn’t really have a direction. I was just dedicating myself to physical therapy five days a week.”
When he made the decision to challenge himself by pursuing an MBA, his mom fully supported him, even moving all the way from Florida to California so she could be by his side.
Judy is a retired elementary school teacher, with a business degree from Notre Dame. For the past two years, she sat by her son in class every day, taking notes, filling in his test answers, and raising her hand when he had questions.
“I’m a geek. I love being in school,” she revealed in a Chapman University blog post. “I’m not going to lie. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
The honorary degree was Marty’s idea. When he went to the university president with the suggestion, the president agreed immediately. However, Marty wanted to keep it a secret and give his mom a surprise.
When Marty’s name was called during the graduation ceremony, an unsuspecting Judy wheeled her son on stage to receive his diploma. Even the announcer broke down when Judy, surprised but composed, was presented with her degree.
“A lump came to my throat,” says Judy. “I was proud of my son and touched to be honored.”
— AP West Region (@APWestRegion) May 23, 2017
Now, with his MBA in hand, Marty will soon be joining DIVERTcity – an action sports startup that aims to empower youths – as the head of corporate scholarships. “There is no way I could have done this without my mom,” Marty told TODAY. “She has been there every single step of the way.”