Mom Who Went to Every Grad School Class With Quadriplegic Son Receives Honorary Degree

It was an emotional moment for both mother and son.

A California mother who attended class with her quadriplegic son to take notes while he worked toward his master’s degree was given a distinction of her own over the weekend.

Marty O’Connor, 29, was left paralyzed after falling down the stairs in 2012, two years after completing his undergrad education at the University of Colorado.


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His mom said it was a great feat for her son to return to the school after the accident.

Judy O'Connor was living in Florida and working as a teacher when her son was injured, and moved to Southern California to help him.

“I know what Marty’s been through since his injury almost five years ago and I knew the monumental challenge it was for him to go back to school,” Judy told “And I saw what he has accomplished, so I was just filled with so much pride [on graduation] day. I was trying to keep it together.”

After the accident, Marty was initially focused on his physical therapy, which he had five days a week, but he eventually healed and sought to get another degree.

After receiving a $10,000 annual scholarship from Swim With Mike, an organization started to benefit USC All-American swimmer Mike Nyeholt, who was paralyzed in a motorcycle crash in 1981, he began attending Chapman University.

His mother attended school with him and took notes for Marty as he worked toward his degree in business administration.

“As soon as we started taking the classes and going through it all, I really found how beneficial it was to have someone who I could communicate with well who understood my needs," Marty told "We already kind of had that comfort zone that allowed us to work really well together and be successful.” 

Marty said initially he felt that it wasn’t the ideal situation to be going back to college with his mom, but he soon realized it was actually a blessing.

“It was very beneficial to be able to be here and get him set up at his desk, pull out what was necessary, and be familiar with what he needed,” Judy said.

The mother also enjoyed taking in all the information in the classes herself, having received a bachelor’s degree in business in her own college years.

“I learned a lot. It was so interesting," she said. "I will miss all the intellectual stimulation of being in that program. It was just awesome."

As Marty’s May graduation approached — two years after he began — he said it was important to him to honor his mother for all she had done.

“It was something that had been on my mind for a while. I mean she had gone through all of the classes and everything with me, you know, helping me study for all hours,” Marty said. “I said I don’t know what the process is but I just want to make a formal nomination for my mom for an honorary MBA.”

School officials helped the 29-year-old plan the surprise.

And shortly after pushing Marty in his wheelchair across the stage on Saturday to receive his degree after their long journey together, the announcer surprised Judy.

In a video shot of the moment, Judy held back tears as she received her degree.

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I don’t know how he kept the secret,” Judy said. “This totally blew me away that he thought to try to have me recognized in that way. It really touched my heart, very meaningful. We made a good team all the way through.”

Marty said his mom finally got the recognition she deserved.

“It was pretty incredible," he said. 

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