Mother of Quadriplegic Graduate Student Surprised with Honorary Degree


The mother of a quadriplegic graduate student, who attended every one of her son’s classes, received a surprise honorary degree at her son’s graduation at Chapman University on Saturday, May 20, 2017, according to

Marty O’Connor, who grew up in Anaheim Hills, was paralyzed after falling down a flight of stairs in 2012, two years after earning his undergraduate degree from the University of Colorado, according to

Judy O’Connor, Marty O’Connor’s mother, helped her son work towards his goal of a master’s of business administration (MBA) degree at Chapman University by accompanying him to all of his classes and taking notes for him, according to

“I did it willingly,” said Judy O’Connor, who has an undergraduate degree from Notre Dame. “When a spinal cord injury happens, you want to swoop in and make everything better and you can’t.”

Judy O’Connor said she watched a “total transformation” of her son as he redefined his future through education. Marty O’Connor excelled in the MBA program, making it into the Beta Gamma Sigma honors society and receiving the school’s nomination for Chapman’s outstanding graduate student award, according to

“She’s been instrumental in the past two years,” Marty said. “There’s no way I would have achieved my level of success without her.”

When Marty was being recognized for his accomplishments earlier this year, he had the chance to meet with Chapman University President Daniele Struppa. During the meeting, he made a formal nomination for his mom to receive an honorary MBA, according to

“When Marty came to me asking if Chapman could present an honorary degree to his mom – and to keep it a surprise – there was no hesitation to make this happen,” Struppa said in a statement to ABC News. “The provost, the dean, and the faculty Senate immediately approved my request. The dedication from both Marty and his mother in his pursuit for a Master’s in Business Administration is nothing short of admirable. We were more than happy to make this happen.”

On Saturday, as the graduating class gathered for their ceremony, Judy O’Connor prepared to push her son’s wheelchair across the stage. After the announcer called Marty’s name, he called out a “special individual,” and said that the faculty, administration, and board of trustees had decided to award Judy with an honorary degree, according to

“Mrs. Judith O’Connor has attended all the classes with her son Marty,” the announcer said. “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,” Judy told KTLA. “I always believed in him. I knew he could do it and I just wanted to have his back.