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.
Download Backstory PDF
Pass It On®
Missy from Missouri MARCH 22, 2019
During the the first part of 2009 I seen this Ambition billboard almost every day. From Homeless to Harvard! Ambition Pass it on. These words replayed over and over in my head every day I passed this billboard. Then one day I was upset about where my life was and i just so happen to drive pass this billboard. I said to myself if she can make something of herself as a child with nothing, then I didnt have a excuse at 26 when I had so much. I told myself that day I needed Ambition to be the best me I could. The very next day I drove past that billboard on my way to our local community college to sign up for GED classes and the set a date to test. A month later I passed my Ged test and enrolled in the police academy. I became a deputy Sheriff. And still to this day I replay this statement with I feel discouraged! Thank you
Anonymous JANUARY 9, 2019
she is AMAZING
April from Alaska NOVEMBER 27, 2018
I love how Liz never used her life story to be a victim. Instead she made up her mind -- and acted on that resolve. Absolutely wonderful story of determination and being the master of your own destiny.
Anonymous JANUARY 9, 2018
Liz Murray you are one strong person I don't know if I could have gone through what you did.
Liz from New York MAY 17, 2017
I Liz Murray is kind hearted I care for other people it was hard growing up with drug addicted parents I know how all the other people growing up with drug addicted parnets
A all as person from Somewhere over the rainbow DECEMBER 2, 2016
Wow girl you got the ability to go on!
LISSETTE from MENDEZ OCTOBER 31, 2016
You go girl!!
Jade Richer from marathon ontario SEPTEMBER 26, 2016
Liz is the reason why we are trying to got an homeless shelter in our small town, shes an idel to all homeless people.
Dave from Grafton WV AUGUST 24, 2016
A true test of the human spirt!
Kerry from Elk Grove, CA MAY 20, 2016
Strong Woman. Powerful story.
Anonymous MAY 11, 2016
Anonymous MAY 11, 2016
Janaka from Matara, Sri Lanka MARCH 4, 2016
kieenidy from FL FEBRUARY 8, 2016
lily from oh io FEBRUARY 8, 2016
samantha from kettering, ohio JANUARY 25, 2016
im so proud of you
anonymous NOVEMBER 16, 2015
It just goes to show that if you try your hardest you can always live your dreams
Alice from Wonderland NOVEMBER 13, 2015
Jordan from baltimore, maryland NOVEMBER 2, 2015
that's wonderful...GO LIZ
walayla OCTOBER 8, 2015
it is so cool.
Anonymous SEPTEMBER 30, 2015
alejandra SEPTEMBER 23, 2015
amazing waw! <3
NULL from NULL JANUARY 22, 2015
I'm so glad she got a chance to be where she is today- not a lot of people have that.
Murshid from Kenya MAY 17, 2014
Reyna from Rowland Heights,CA APRIL 22, 2014
Even though you are homeless you can become something extraordinary.
Grace from Sand Diego,CA APRIL 3, 2014
wow, just wow! that is truly amazing!
melina from Flordia MARCH 18, 2014
I like this story you should put more about it.
bob from saturn FEBRUARY 11, 2014
i love this!
Marie from Virginia Beach, Virginia APRIL 18, 2013
Wow. Believe in yourself and never give up.
jonathan from hartford,ct MARCH 22, 2013
This story touched my heart.
moises from ct MARCH 20, 2013
I love her! This story touched my heart!
thomas from logan FEBRUARY 22, 2013
This is the best story because I had similar experience.
Eunice from ct FEBRUARY 4, 2013
im so glad i read this. it makes me want to try hader in school
Anonymous from CT FEBRUARY 4, 2013
I loved this story when I first heard it.
Marisa S. from michigan DECEMBER 17, 2012
Wow! She's amazing :)
matilda reynolds from alkrington APRIL 26, 2012
I think that this messige is very good for young people. Never give up!
Anna from China MARCH 29, 2012
yeah she did a great job
but maybe we all should think clearly about what we really want before we get a great score in school .
or ,should we get a good score only because the society tells you that's the best thing to do to improve your situation ? I think Liz is lucky that she did get into a Columbia University and continues studying psychology ,but what about thousands of students who got a good score and became someone just common ?
I think the point I learned from this story is that diligence actually makes a difference and we should chase what we want .But it's more important to know what you really want .Don't try to get a better score just because the society told you so or because it makes you popular in school .
Think in your own way !
Luis Colon from Philadelphia SEPTEMBER 24, 2011
Liz, you have confirmed that I am on the right path. Thank you for sharing your story. I think it is important that those of us, who have come from broken experiences, share those experiences, strengths, and hopes with others. Again, Thanks!
Karunakar Koyyada from Hyderabad JUNE 16, 2011
This site and all the real life stories make me come back here again and again.Thank you
Jordan Caldwell from Adrian, Michigan APRIL 27, 2011
I love this billboard.! This is so inspiring, and motivational. Thank-you Liz! :)
Chris B from Logan MARCH 15, 2011
Ashlyn Wing from Adrian, MI MARCH 2, 2011
Awesome I love your work.
Geo Martinez from Adrian, MI MARCH 2, 2011
I love your work
Ben D from United States FEBRUARY 10, 2011
Harvard to Homeless is awesome!!! :)
Sarita C from United States FEBRUARY 8, 2011
This is a wonderful article. It is sad what happened to her mom but she got through all the terrible things that happened to her. She was able to do her school work and made it to Harvard!
Melissa from Philadelphia FEBRUARY 7, 2011
This story truly brought tears to my eyes. Amazing. You have shown what it means to never give up, and always believe you can do better. Truly inspiring.
Ron D. from Valley of the Sun, AZ JANUARY 18, 2011
This is awesome. I am speechless. We all have trials, and we all need to remember, to stay focused our ultimate goal, whatever it may be, and let anyone tell you that you 'can't'!!
Preston W. from Weatherford, Texas JANUARY 14, 2011
We all fall down, its who helps us get up that we have to remember.
Mansoor Ahmed from Philadelphia(USA)/Bangalore(India) JANUARY 3, 2011
This is truly inspiring. Thanks to that one commercial, I found a lot about this foundation and about Liz. Liz, you should reaching out to the younger crowds and encourage them to take their lives to the right directions. Just because our parents provide a decent life does not mean we will have the same in our future. Ambition and persistence make a lot of difference. Thanks for sharing your life, it reminds me of my younger days. God bless you.
Ron D. from Valley of the Sun JANUARY 1, 2011
This is an amazing program that had me from 'believe.'
AliciaC from Louisville Ky OCTOBER 30, 2010
She is inspiring!
Dennis White from Philadelphia PA OCTOBER 7, 2010
I think of all the kids who take for granted a life of ease in all aspects, and then I read of Liz and am very proud to have read her story--outstanding young lady, a winner with dignity.
封高飞 from GuangDong，China OCTOBER 6, 2010
Great woman with a great story!
Carol S. from KY MAY 14, 2010
My mother grew up like Liz, dirt poor, no real guidance in Alabama during the depression. As a young black girl, she finished high school, paid for college on her own and graduated at age 20. Her first job was teaching in a one room school in Mississippi. She lived there and had to chop wood for the stove and cook for the pupils ages 5-17, grades 1-7. She and my father have been married for 54 years. She learned on her own how to be a better parent than the ones she had. She may not have done everything perfectly...but she did it. She is my hero!
Iliana V. from Miami, Florida MAY 14, 2010
Hope I can inspire my students to be like you. You are amazing...never give up.
Ahley H. from TX MARCH 24, 2010
Well if you ask me I love this story it is because it shows people that you can do what ever you want as soon as you put your mind and heart to it.
Charmayne Garcia from California MARCH 18, 2010
That's cool, I have no father or mother their for me either. I am 17 but I'm about to graduate a year early and I like your story. It makes me feel like I'm not the only one to be young and have no one. Now I do.
Christina M. from Indiana JULY 10, 2009
This made me cry. I am always listening to the people who tell me to chase my dreams when their's was frankly handed to them. It's amazing to see that she didn't give up and I won't either.
Natalia APRIL 13, 2009
This person is a symbol for everything that one who believes that it they can`t obtain what one proposes without mattering where from it they comes.
Megan R. from Nebraska APRIL 6, 2009
The movie is such an inspirational film, especially to people who actually have a home life like she did. It shows that people can make their lives amazing even when they have a rough home life. She is such an amazing girl for how she managed to make it through high school and college after all she's been through.
Patsy H. from Northport, Alabama FEBRUARY 18, 2009
I teach health in Northport, Alabama and have shown "Homeless to Harvard" every year to my students. I am always so amazed and proud of Liz each time I share her story!!! Liz is truly an inspiration to us all! Thanks for your story and having the courage to tell it!
Kim G. from Georgia FEBRUARY 9, 2009
Bravo for you, Liz! What an inspiration you are to everyone...no matter what the obstacles may be! I want my 13 year old daughter to watch the movie "Homeless to Harvard". Great message that applies to anyone, regardless of background or lifestyle.
T.B. from Wisconsin FEBRUARY 7, 2009
Your movie, "Homeless to Harvard," was a great inspiration to me and my mother who passed on not too long ago. It was a very encouraging film that you were very determined to climb to a higher level to achieve success by going to a great school-Harvard.
Mecia H from Saginaw, Mi JANUARY 20, 2009
That's an amazing story and it's really fortunate for her to have had courage and ambition enough to just say that there's no difference between her and those kids at Harvard so she too can live that life. I know my faith will give me that kind of strength too.
Jane D. from South Carolina, USA JANUARY 3, 2009
That is so wonderful that she found a way to bounce back from all of her misfortunes and go to Harvard.
Gary W. from New York, NY DECEMBER 17, 2008
I hope that I can accomplish even half of what Liz has.
Abdullah A. from Oman DECEMBER 5, 2008
Your story is an inspiration. Born to a poor family in the Middle East, I pursued my life with determination. I got a scholarship to the States, and now I am now on another scholarship doing my Masters in Australia. Whenever I feel tired of working, I remind myself of your story. You keep me going. I wanna go home and I miss my mother but I have to finish this before going home.
BETTY L from MEXICO CITY NOVEMBER 5, 2008
SUCH A WONDERFUL STORY. I AM CRYING. THANKS FOR LETTING US KNOW THAT THERE IS HOPE ALWAYS!
Ryan B from Minnesota OCTOBER 17, 2008
Born with cleft lip and palate, I always let the sound of my voice dictate what I did. After seeing you speak, I've promised myself to never again let that happen. Thank you!
Amanda P. from Saginaw, MI SEPTEMBER 28, 2008
This is just a wonderful story. I actually saw the movie on Lifetime! Very touching and inspiring to so many people.
Benjamin from Singapore AUGUST 27, 2008
I am very motivated by Liz. This pushes me further to pursue what I want to achieve. Liz, your story inspires me to work even harder!
Jackie T. from PA AUGUST 24, 2008
Liz, I am going through a rough time in my life right now, but after reading and watching your story, I know I can perserve. Thank you for sharing.
Claudia S. from Florida AUGUST 24, 2008
My sister and I just saw the Lifetime movie. You truly inspire us. We are amazed by your accomplishments.
Barbara S. from USA AUGUST 2, 2008
You are a beautiful woman with an incredible inner spirit to have come as far as you have. Congratulations and what an excellent job! Your story is inspirational, and reminds me I have no excuses for my shortfalls in life.
Stephanie S. from Texas MAY 15, 2008
Liz, your story is very inspiring. As a single mother of two who works full time and goes to school, I often feel overwhelmed and want to give up on school. I remind myself of your story, you give me the motivation to keep going. Bless you!
Matthew S. from Wisconsin MAY 15, 2008
The world really needs more people like Liz. I certainly know we have too many kids who get made fun of at school- I sincerely commend Liz for rising above this and letting it drive her on instead of push her down.
Priscilla C. from Virginia MAY 13, 2008
I'm so proud of liz. Bless her.
Robert E. from Nashville, TN MAY 13, 2008
Rising from the ashes of broken days, a burning ember burst forth into flame, shining as a touch, an example to all, melding into the very fibers of life, where hope shall have it's way.
Glenda C. APRIL 25, 2008
Liz's story is truly inspirational. On the other hand Liz is also gifted. Her intellectual abilities are not common to the poor.
Sometimes this story is presented as if all you have to do is try hard but with that one has to also be talented and sharp in thinking. Bless you Liz, you are a hero!
Rebecca T. from USA APRIL 12, 2008
Way to go Liz! Even with your crummy beginnings, you overcame your adversities and soared higher than most! Keep up the great work!
Karunakar,Koyyada from India,hyderabad APRIL 10, 2008
One should be thankful for the tough times in life because tough times make us the better person and people like liz are standing examples of tough times and by with standing those tough times...she has set an example for others.
Larry C from Chicago MARCH 23, 2008
Great heart, great vision, great mind. The world is a better place because of her example.
Deborah C. from Worcester, Massachusetts USA MARCH 1, 2008
I am very proud of Liz, I and other people I know look up to this wonderful girl I call an angel. She touches everyone's heart. We love you Liz!
Rebecca K. from France MARCH 1, 2008
I just saw the movie "Homeless to Harvard" and I would like to thank you for this lesson of bravery, strength and determination. In my childhood I lost my mom because of illness and I had to grow very rapidly to help my dad look after my little brother and sister. And at this time I'm a student at university and trying to become someone, like my mum wanted. I thought my life was hard but after seeing the movie of your life I realize that my childhood was of course not the worst. The movie made me think and gave me more strength to achieving my goals: finishing my studies, becoming professor and living my passion. Thanks a lot Liz and take care of you.
Mary L. from Ponce, Puerto Rico FEBRUARY 27, 2008
Your are a living inspiration for all of us and as a professor I had had the opportunity to use your movie to help others to see that there is always hope and to motivated them to reach the stars of life.
Shirley M. from Knoxville, Tennessee USA NOVEMBER 15, 2007
I too had an extremely difficult childhood. I was four when my Mother died. I too was able to overcome my difficult childhood and become successful. Now I'm a Grandmother and extremely happy! Resiliency is also helpful!
Loreen T. from Santa Rosa, California USA NOVEMBER 13, 2007
I find Liz Murray's story truly inspirational and I am glad I was able to learn of her accomplishments.
Grace F. from New Jersey, USA NOVEMBER 6, 2007
I had the pleasure of listening to Liz speak today at a conference and she is an amazing person. She said life is all about making choices...."Listen to your what if's" and take chances. She's truly an inspiration!
Jonathan L from New York City, New York USA NOVEMBER 6, 2007
Just because I have more doesn't mean I am worth more.
Jokiden from Seremban, Malaysia OCTOBER 26, 2007
Malay proverb says "When there is a will, there is a way..." Go on Liz!
Nalini S. from Varansi, India OCTOBER 23, 2007
Great! It is a vitamin for those who search for success!
Emiah C. from Pleasant Hill, California USA OCTOBER 6, 2007
I have been deeply inspired by this billboard...Liz is my inspiration!
Melanie T. from Ballston Lake, New York USA SEPTEMBER 17, 2007
It's great to see people like Liz overcome their obstacles and they're a great example for others!
Rafael A. from Visalia, California USA SEPTEMBER 5, 2007
Thank you for this wonderful billboard and its prime location. I saw this billboard driving along highway 99 in California's Central Valley where unemployment and poverty is at double digits. Ambition lets us all know that everything is possible if you go after it.
BP from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA AUGUST 27, 2007
I pass this billboard every day on the way to work in Philadelphia. Just looking at it gives me chills...reading the story today has inspired me on a whole other level.
Kim O. from Bristol, Tennessee USA AUGUST 16, 2007
I love the billboards. I work for juvenile court in Bristol, Tennessee, and the billboard we have in our town is Liz Murray...I use that example often with these kids! Thank you!!
Rhonda R. from Rocky Mount, North Carolina USA AUGUST 14, 2007
This poster really gives you hope for all of our young people. I would love to have several of these posters to put in our high schools.
Rachelle L, from Colorado AUGUST 13, 2007
Wow, this puts everything into perspective. If Liz can do it, so can I, so can you!
G. Smith from Ogden, Utah USA AUGUST 13, 2007
We need more silent heroes like Liz in the lives of our students everyday. I get more comments on the FBL posters than any others I hang in my school. Keep going Liz!
Ingrid M. from Kentucky, USA AUGUST 13, 2007
Liz's story proves that we can do whatever we set our minds to it.
Mel D from India JULY 26, 2007
This is really inspiring - makes me feel so humble, makes me feel I have no excuses for not pursuing my own aspirations which I had for so long. Thank you for this site.
Henry A from Kuala Lumpur, MY JULY 24, 2007
A combination of time and the right opportunity leads to success and fulfillment.
Henry A from Kuala Lumpur, MY JULY 24, 2007
Goal setting is important, but doing is more important...
Ronnaliza C from Philippines JULY 4, 2007
If you have ambition in life and you act on it then everything will be on your way to a better future...
Shaun D from Georgia JULY 3, 2007
I want a poster of this.
Andrew T from Australia JUNE 24, 2007
This billboard says it all.