June 27, 2011

Homeless to Harvard Liz Murray

I wanted to tell you this week about a young woman who took a bad situation and succeeded anyway.  Her name is Liz Murray, and she went from homeless to graduating from Harvard University!  Pretty amazing, eh?  It wasn’t easy at all.  It took lots of hard work and help from people who could see her determination.  But it all paid off in the end.

Liz was born to drug-addicted parents in New York City.  She and her older sister had to take care of themselves because their parents were too busy with their drug addictions.  Her dad sat in front of a TV all day, while her mom wandered around town or slept.  You can imagine how filthy their apartment was, with no one cleaning it. Liz went to school to get one good meal a day because there was no food at home.  Living in filth meant that Liz would get sick and miss a lot of school.  She smelled bad, and people teased her.  She wore dirty clothes and her hair was greasy and messy.  

Things got worse when her family became homeless when she was 15 years old.  Liz had nowhere to live.  Liz slept in stairwells of other apartments or public bathrooms.  She had to leave before anyone saw her.  She said, “Even though I had lost my family and was carrying around nothing more than some music, a picture of my mother, a few articles of clothing and some [stolen] food… I realized there was a place I wanted to be, and my goals guided my daily actions as I took steps to get myself there.  Regardless of what happened, there was peace in that.”

Since she had missed so much school, she had been kicked out.  But she wanted to go to school really badly.  She knew that to get out of her situation, she needed a good education.  She spent her mornings walking to many different schools and asked if they’d allow her to enroll.  But her absences on her school records kept catching up with her, and they’d tell her no.  She finally found a school that would accept her, the Humanities Preparatory Academy; and a homeless shelter where she could live called ‘the Door.’  She worked hard and caught up in school.  And then she set her sights on Harvard.

Liz had spent two years earning A’s in her high school classes while living in the homeless shelter.  The New York Times newspaper told her story, and people started offering to help her.  Harvard admitted her on the basis of her good grades and test scores, and scholarships followed that enabled her to attend.  She had to drop out for a time to take care of her sick father, but came back when she could.  She graduated from Harvard in June 2009.  She now serves on the board of directors of the ‘Door’ homeless shelter, and speaks motivationally.  And she wants to go back to Harvard for more education, a doctorate in clinical psychology, so she can counsel people.

She said, “America has never owed me anything more than a real and solid chance to work for my dreams.  It has delivered on this promise… [My dreams] might have proved impossible had I not lived in a country where dreams still come true.  And at the heart of it all was my willingness to be grateful for the things that I already have rather than dwelling on what I don’t.”  

For more information, see Wikipedia “Liz Murray.”
Liz Murray, “Freedom From Want.”  Readers Digest March 2011.

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