Liz Murray shares homeless to Harvard experience

Lisa Hellier

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Everything changed when her family was split apart. Her mother was HIV positive and when it quickly turned into full-blown AIDS, she had to permanently remain in the hospital. Her parents’ friends took her sister Lisa in and her father moved into a shelter.

Murray was put in a group home and it is a negative experience she will never forget. She got beat up and the staff was insulting and mean. As soon as she got out of the system she was determined to never go back. Along with her best friend Chris, she started sleeping on couches at her friends’ houses. When people stopped answering their doors, she and Chris would sleep in subways or in the hallways of buildings.

She decided to turn her life around when her mother died. Murray admitted that she had an “I’ll do it later” lifestyle and she hadn’t visited her mother in a month. Her mother’s casket was a pine box and she was buried by construction workers.

“I thought I had a later,” Murray said.  “I would be changed by this experience immediately and permanently.”

She decided to go back to school. It was a tough climb as she was rejected by multiple schools for past truancies and poor grades.

She nearly gave up, almost grabbing a slice of pizza instead of going to the last school. She was accepted by one of the schools in New York City, where she met Perry, her future teacher and mentor.

He pushed her to work her hardest and do the best that she could.

“It’s someone that loves you that will hold you higher,” Murray said.

She worked to get straight A’s. Then she started taking night classes and Saturday classes along with her regular classes.

“I thought her story was really amazing,” Krista Rasco Mass Communications graduate student said.  “It’s amazing that she’s been able to triumph over so many different obstacles.”

It was a school trip to Boston that led her to apply to Harvard. She didn’t believe she could get in, especially with the high cost of tuition, but Perry encouraged her to try. She applied for a scholarship New York Times was offering in which she had to write an autobiography. She was one of the top 21 finalists and had to do an interview at the New York Times office. On the day of the interview, she also had an interview with the welfare office and one for Harvard. The only thing she did not get that day was welfare.

“No one knows what’s possible until they are already doing it,” Murray said. “I feel like life is magic. Throw yourselves into what is possible in life.”

Murray was chosen as one of the winners for the scholarship and after the article was published she received a lot of help from her community. They set her up in an apartment and brought her food and other necessities.

“I didn’t know people could be good,” Murray said. “They made a believer out of me.” Today, Murray is married to her high school sweetheart, James, and has a son named Liam. She created a high school for homeless teenagers that opened in August 2011. She also travels around the world to tell people about her story and how she overcame her struggles. Murray is the founder and director of Manifest Living, which is a company that provides a series of workshops that empower adults to do extraordinary things with their lives.

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Liz Murray shares homeless to Harvard experience