What parent isn’t happy to help their son or daughter through an M.B.A. degree, and proud when they gradate. Judy O’Connor, a retired schoolteacher is one such mom. Her son, Marty, was transformed from college athlete to quadriplegic when he fell down some stairs in 2012 while working at a Southern California packaging plant. So when she wheeled him onto the stage on Saturday, May 20, 2017, to receive his degree from the Dean of Chapman University, she had more reason than normal to be proud of her offspring.
What happened on that stage was completely unexpected; the dean refused to let her fade into the background to let her have her son have his moment. No, she, too, was to receive a degree, an honorary M.B.A. “I was totally blown away,” Ms. O’Connor said later. So was the crowd, as they rose to their feet.
Marty and his mother had earned their respective degrees side by side. She accompanied him to every one of his classes at the private school in Orange, California. She took notes for him, typed them up and created study guides. “We had a lot of late-night hours together,” she said.
Ms. O’Connor had no idea the honorary degree was in the pipeline. Marty had met with university president Daniele Struppa in February. He had no problem persuading her to consider awarding an honorary degree to his mother. She had nothing but admiration for the dedicated parent and had no trouble bringing the dean and provost on board with the plan, along with the faculty senate.
Despite the fact that his mother helped him with his cell phone, he managed to keep it a secret right up until the moment her degree was announced. When a spokeswoman for the university asked his permission to publicize his story, he agreed, but sternly swore her to secrecy as far as his mother was concerned.
Five years ago, when it sank in that he was not going to recover physically, Marty was determined to find an intellectual challenge. His mother was equally determined to help him meet that challenge. The perseverance of the pair of them was rewarded.