Being a quadriplegic was no reason for Chapman University student Marty O’Connor to give up on his aspirations.
On May 20, 2017, Mr O’Connor was awarded an MBA from Chapman’s Argyros School of Business and Economics.
Prior to his achievement, Mr O’Connor was a young salesman for packaging industry firm TricorBraun, traveling internationally and “making great strides, at the apogee of my career,” he said.
However, in 2012 he tragically suffered a bad fall down a staircase – a fall that left him paralyzed from the shoulders down.
Mr O’Connor had become a quadriplegic. It was a devastating result, but after two years, five days a week, in physical therapy, O’Connor admitted he was left struggling mentally and in need of an intellectual challenge.
“I decided to add professional value to myself and pursue an MBA,” Mr O’Connor told Poets & Quants.
“I was not sure how I could fare in the program, given my limitations. I was sort of running into it blind.”
Mr O’Connor began to explore MBA programs, and with the help of a $10,000 a year grant from the Swim with Mike organization – a group that provides scholarships for physically challenged athletes and was established in honor of Mike Nyeholt, a USC swimmer who was paralyzed in 1981 – he started graduate school at Chapman.
Mr O’Connor then became a familiar sight in Chapman University’s Beckman Hall, rolling to class in his wheelchair.
Mr O’Connor had no idea how things would like when he went back to school, especially without being able to write, use his hands, or raise his hand in class.
“But I think it really kind of challenged me to do some introspection and see what strengths I do have to utilise, and how I can use my situation to work on some new strengths.
“This has really forced upon me some patience and thoughtfulness in everything I’m doing.”
Despite Mr O’Connor’s strength of will and outlook on life, he was still paralyzed, and was unable to take notes or write answers on tests. He needed help, and looked to his mother Judy. Judy O’Connor was a retired elementary school teacher, who relocated from Florida to California to help him.
“I’m a geek. I love being in school,” Mrs O’Connor said.
“I’m not going to lie. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
Judy reportedly attended every class with Marty for the two years of his MBA. She attended tutoring sessions and group study sessions, took notes, raised her hand in class and wrote his answers down on tests.
When graduation came in May, Mr O’Connor decided it was important to acknowledge his mother’s time and effort in his MBA.
“She was there every step of the way and with her help I was able to do extremely well,” he said.
“It wouldn’t be right for me to receive all the accolades and recognition, she deserved every bit as much as I did.”
He asked the university if his mother could be awarded an honorary degree. They agreed, but kept the secret until the graduation ceremony.
Mr O’Connor’s mother received an honorary degree with her son, which was announced over the loudspeaker.
“I was really choked up,” she says. “I was totally shocked. I never expected it.”
With new skills acquired thanks to his MBA education, Mr O’Connor will soon join a youth action sports startup called DIVERTcity as head of corporate sponsorships.