When a tragic accident left her son Marty with limited mobility, Judy O’Connor combined her love for education and her love for her son to help him achieve his goals.
A life-long sports fan and athlete, Marty O’Connor attended the University of Colorado at Boulder for his undergrad, where he was a member of the snowboard team and the captain of the volleyball team. After finishing his degree, Marty moved to California to work in sales. After falling down a flight of stairs in a freak accident in 2012, Marty was left with a spinal cord injury. Following surgery and hospitalization, Marty was released and began the painful and challenging road to recovery. Now a quadriplegic, Marty is unable to move from the neck down, but was determined to earn his MBA.
“After I got hurt, I didn’t know which end was up,” O’Connor said in an interview with Chapman University. “I didn’t really have a direction. I was just dedicating myself to physical therapy five days a week. While my body was in a better place because of that, mentally, I was just kind of lost. I needed that mental challenge and wanted to add some professional value to myself.”
Almost three years to the date of his injury, Marty enrolled in the MBA program at Chapman University in California. Though there are many voice recognition applications to aid those who don’t have the use of their hands and arms, Marty was unable to take notes during class or raise his hand when he had a question. Thankfully, his mom Judy stepped in.
Following her son’s accident, Judy O’Connor retired from her position as a school teacher in Florida and moved to California. Having earned her own business degree from Notre Dame University, Judy became her son’s primary caregiver and note taker, attending every class, study session and exam with Marty.
Without the help of Judy, Marty’s road to earning an MBA would have been much more difficult. To thank her, Marty nominated Judy for her own honorary MBA and spoke with numerous faculty members to help pull off a surprise for Judy during graduation. Marty’s efforts paid off and during the Chapman University graduation ceremony this month, Judy was presented with an honorary MBA on stage with her son.
Speaking with local news station KTLA, Judy said that during the ceremony “I was trying to stay in the background.”
Holding back their own tears, the announcer at the Chapman University graduation explained Judy’s involvement in Marty’s education to the crowd, saying “Mrs. Judith O’Connor has attended all the classes with her son Marty. She has taken notes and worked with Marty throughout his academic career.”
“As a mom, you just want to help your kids get through things. I’ve always believed in him and I knew he could do it and I just wanted to have his back,” says Judy.
Now five years after his accident, Marty has graduated with his MBA, with his mother rightly earning her own honorary degree. Marty already has a job lined up and will have a professional assistant working with him at a corporate sponsorship company. The O’Connor family have started a foundation in Marty’s name, to help Marty and other people who have sustained debilitating injuries to gain access to support their need to live healthy and fulfilling lives.