05/09/2014 05:52 pm ET Updated Jul 09, 2014

Shaq's Mother Has a Message for All of Us This Mother's Day

By Katie Parsons for

Lucille O'Neal knows a thing or two about the challenges that face young mothers with educational aspirations. The mother-of-four, known to most as"Shaq's mom," waited to finally pursue her own college degree until after the age of 40.

"Being a mother is hard, and you often have to put dreams on hold. I encourage young people that if they ever get (educational) opportunities, to take them," she said. "I went back to school late in life...I believe that education is very important and opens up new doors and opportunities for any individual."

Helping mothers achieve their educational goals, despite obstacles, is such a passion of Lucille's that she recently partnered with the Boys & Girls Club of America and the University of Phoenix to hand-pick three mothers for full-tuition bachelor or master's degree scholarships to the attend the college online or at a satellite campus. The "Most Inspirational Moms" campaign had 100 entrants and three were chosen to receive the scholarships based on their stories of survival and determination.

On the list of winners is Shannon, a 35-year-old old mother who put her higher education goals on hold when her husband died suddenly when her daughter was only two. She plans to use her scholarship to pursue a Master of Science in Psychology to set up a counseling service for others who are experiencing the loss of a spouse.

Linda, 48, a survivor of abuse, is raising a son with autism and a daughter with ADHD. She will use her scholarship to complete her Bachelor of Science in Marketing and pursue a Master of Science in Psychology with a concentration in Behavioral Health. Her goal is to establish an all-hours clinic so class work is not disrupted for children in need of counseling.

Megan, 27, a mom from a small mining town in Utah, has had life-long dreams of starting her own business. With her scholarship, she will earn a Bachelor of Science in Business with a concentration in Small Business Management and Entrepreneurship. With her degree, she hopes to explore a number of new business ventures to help attract businesses to her community, establish clean parks and set up a tire recycling plant.

When it comes to her own parenting, O'Neal says she got a lot of inspiration from her mother, a "humble, loving" hero. The Boys and Girls Club has also felt like a support system, she says. Son Shaquille has been vocal about the role the Boys and Girls Club played in keeping him off the streets and getting him interested in sports at a young age.

"The Boys and Girls Club has been very, very helpful in our own family, and with all my kids," she said. "The people there really care about the children, and work as partners with parents and the community. I know and stand as a witness that they make a difference."

Though she most often fields questions about her larger-than-life superstar eldest son, O'Neal says that it is the little things about her children's character that bring her joy.

"We are all due respect and when I see my children living by the Golden Rule, it makes me proud," she said.

So what does a celebrity mom do on Mother's Day? O'Neal hopes to see most of her kids, and 15 grandchildren, on Sunday though she says that Shaquille has a "heavy schedule" this time of the year due to NBA Playoffs and his role as a commentator.

"I love that my children just acknowledge it, they don't have to do anything special. Just be with me," she said. "Every day is Mother's Day to me."

For those moms who are celebrating their first Mother's Day on Sunday, she has this advice:

"Enjoy being a mother...keep lines of communication open, and learn how to listen," O'Neal said. "Just love your children, and continue to love them some more."

For more information on the ways the Boys and Girls Club and University of Phoenix are helping families set higher educational goals and achieve them, visit the Within Reach page.


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