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From Homeless to Harvard: Liz Murray’s story about achieving the impossible!

Born into a family where her parents were lost to drug addiction, crime, and also suffered from mental illness, Murray’s fate seemed bleak. However, Liz Murray affirmed “life takes on the meaning that you give it.” Despite the odds, Liz squeezed four years of high school into two, while homeless. She won a New York Times scholarship, made it into the Ivy League, wrote a New York Times bestseller and has become one of the world’s most sought after motivational speakers.  


As an individual who went through poverty and desolation in her childhood, but ended up making a better life for herself, Liz is a testament to the impossible becoming possible. Liz Murray’s childhood was consumed by drug-addicted parents, hunger and homelessness. Some of her earliest memories are of her parents spending their welfare payments on cocaine and heroin when she and her sister were starving:

"We ate ice cubes because it felt like eating. We split a tube of toothpaste between us for dinner."

Despite this, Liz talks frequently about the fact that her parents were very loving, but helpless in the face of addiction and poverty. 

After wasting all their money on drugs, the family was forced to move houses all the time, sometimes being on the streets. The father ended up leaving the family to move into a men’s shelter, and her mother unfortunately passed away due to AIDS (“Liz Murray” Contemporary). Liz would, often, turn up to school lice-ridden and was bullied for being smelly and scruffy and eventually dropped out. 

The fact that her mother was buried in a pine box, with her name misspelt on her tombstone, and written in a gibberish manner with a magic marker, made her question her worth. Witnessing the indignity of her mother’s funeral shook her, and she took an oath to make the best of her life. 

"I'm smart. I know I can succeed. I just need a chance. A chance to climb out of this place I've born in. Everyone I know are angry and tired. They're trying to survive. But I know that there is a world out there that is better, that's better developed. And I want to live in it."

She decided not to give in to life’s tragedy like her parents did. “I had learned to get by and had done well under the circumstances. Who would blame me, right? I had every excuse in the book to give up and become another statistic. But I also knew I was capable of something more.” She drew an action plan to uplift herself. Firstly, she’d need a job, and then education. She found one, going door-to-door soliciting donations in support of political initiatives. Determined to make it work, she ended up breaking all the sales records of the company, and made more than $8000 in two months, even more than her boss! Next, she wanted to desperately get into a school.  


She wanted to study from a small private school, but her trivial academic past made it seemingly impossible. She refrained from telling the admissions department that she was homeless, for fear of being put into state child welfare. After a lot of hustle and using a friend’s address and phone number, she was accepted to Humanities Preparatory Academy. She did a year’s work a term and went to night classes. A teacher saw her gumption and mentored her. When he took his top 10 students to Harvard, she stood outside the university and instead of feeling intimidated she admired its architecture – and decided it was within her reach. Then she heard that the New York Times gave scholarships. 


A few days later, Liz was accepted as a recipient of the scholarship, along with five more people. Her story, published in The New York Times, was no more a secret. People all over the world were so moved by her story, and her spirit to make ideal choices in the most adverse circumstances, that they paid for her expenses. What’s more encouraging is that The New York Times received an additional fund of $200,000 to fund more students.  

“I felt like I had wings,” she says. “I felt like I could do anything.” Liz later decided to share her story with millions of people who are at crossroads, just like she was after her mother’s death. She became an author, and several movies and shows have been made about her life.  


Liz kept the promise she made to herself.  Her determination to succeed, faith in herself, and unshakable hope for a better, brighter future guarded her against her negative environment. 


Her story sounds like a Hollywood movie—and it practically is. Lifetime Television produced a movie about Murray’s life story entitled Homeless to Harvard, which was nominated for three “Emmy Awards”. Murray is the recipient of the White House “Project’s Role Model Award” and Oprah Winfrey’s first-ever “Chutzpah Award”. Her memoir, Breaking Night, landed on the New York Times best seller list within a week of its release and quickly became an international bestseller published in twelve countries, in eight languages. 


Murray received her Bachelor of Science degree from Harvard University. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in Psychology at Columbia University. As an inspirational speaker with the Washington Speakers Bureau, Murray frequently presents dynamic talks to audiences ranging from several hundred to several thousand. Some of her clients include Coca-Cola, Merrill Lynch, Microsoft, United Way, BlackRock and numerous colleges and universities across the United States. 

One of the most inspiring quotes from her is, “I’ve learned in my life that you really don’t know what’s possible until you’re already doing it” Murray inspired us to not be afraid of taking obstacles head-on when they are in the way of our goals, and to not give up on them.  

She changed many minds around the world, letting others know that nothing is impossible, and something like going from being homeless to graduating from Harvard University is possible. After all the struggles in her life, she still managed to achieve her dreams, as well as become an amazing role model, author, and most importantly, a hero. 


We hope Liz’s story inspired you to not let your circumstances dictate your future. Instead, you have the power to choose your own destiny and manifest it, despite any overwhelming obstacles in your way. And we are here to help you  become motivated and confident to make the change and progress you want – in your personal life and in your career. Learn more about our programs here


“I've learned in my life that you really don't know what's possible until you're already doing it” 

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