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Mom who went to every class with quadriplegic son surprised with honorary degree

A mother who spent two years helping her son work toward an MBA after he became paralyzed in 2012 was awarded an honorary degree of her own.
/ Source: TODAY

For two years, Judy O'Connor was side by side with her son in every single one of his graduate classes as he pursued an MBA after a fall down a staircase left him paralyzed.

The retired elementary school teacher took notes and hand-wrote test answers for her son Marty, 29, who became a quadriplegic in 2012 and could not physically perform those tasks.

She would also help get him set up at home with his desk, laptop, iPad, phone and voice software to facilitate his assignments.

He set a goal of attaining a Master of Business Administration at Chapman University in Orange, California, and Judy was willing to do anything to help him reach it, including moving from her home in Florida to be with him in California.

"When a family member has a spinal cord injury, you feel so helpless,'' she told TODAY Thursday. "As a mother I wanted to come in and fix things. You want to help your kids out. When your children need you that's where you need to be."

All their hard work together paid off on Wednesday when Judy pushed Marty across the stage in his wheelchair to earn his MBA at Chapman University's graduation.

Marty wasn't the only one who left with a diploma, as the school surprised Judy by also awarding her an honorary degree with fellow students cheering in approval.

Even the announcer became emotional, choking up while detailing everything Judy had done for Marty.

"I was just so touched and honored,'' Judy said. "We looked out and saw all the wonderful young adults that he had spent two years with standing and clapping. I had felt like I had been there with them. It was quite a wonderful moment for me, very proud."

Marty had previously earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Colorado and was working as a salesman when he was injured. Graduate school helped bring back his focus after the life-changing incident.

"After I got hurt, I didn’t know which end was up," he said in a story on Chapman University's blog. "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."

Following the surprise on Wednesday, Judy broke out in a big grin and blew a kiss to her fellow students.

"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."


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Follow writer Scott Stump on Twitter.