Liz Murray grew up in the Bronx, New York City, with drug-addicted parents who sometimes sold household items in order to get their fix. As a child, Murray hated school because when she did go, she was teased as an oddball—after all, she had no one at home to make sure she showered or got up on time.
As Murray grew older, her parents lost their apartment. Her mother, who suffered from AIDS, became increasingly ill and was hospitalized, while her father struggled from shelter to shelter. Rather than submit to the dehumanization and sadness that had characterized her brief experience in foster care, Murray chose to fend for herself. She slept on friends' couches or floors at odd hours, camped outside or rode the subway all night.
When Murray was 16, her mother died. Murray felt that event as "a slap in the face" that caused her to question where her life was going. With an eighth-grade education, Murray decided that, as she said, "Life rewards action. I was going to go out there and… have action in my life every day instead of this stagnant behavior that I had been partaking in for so long."
After Murray was admitted to an alternative high school, the Humanities Preparatory Academy, she took a double course load and completed high school in only two years. The school took its top 10 students, including Murray, on a trip to Boston, where the group walked through Harvard Yard.
"It's not as though I had some sort of epiphany at the moment… It was more that I got jealous of how these students had so much opportunity, and I felt that I'd had very little. And so then I thought, ‘Well, what's the difference between me and anyone here?’ And I filled in all the gaps."
Her grades earned Murray a scholarship from the New York Times. She applied and was admitted to Harvard, and graduated in 2009, after taking a sabbatical to care for her father, who also passed away due to AIDS.
Along the way, Murray began to tell her story through writing and public speaking. Her tale was adapted by Lifetime Television in the 2003 film "Homeless to Harvard: the Liz Murray Story." She is also an avid writer whose best-selling memoir, "Breaking Night," was published in 2010. Now a member of the Washington Speakers' Bureau, Murray has found she has "a knack for" sharing her insights with audiences across the country, and she has founded a company, Manifest Living, which works to empower adults to create extraordinary things in their lives.
In all she does, Murray embodies ambition—not only to achieve material goals and accomplishments, but more importantly, to transcend circumstances and achieve the very best of which one is capable.
Ambition. Pass It On!
This billboard about Ambition features Liz Murray; inspirational speaker.