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Author, who overcame homelessness in high school, says mentors, high expectations are critical

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 5 October 2018 at 8:53 am

Liz Murray brings her story to Albion

Photos by Tom Rivers

ALBION – Liz Murray speaks during a presentation – “Homeless to Harvard” – at the Albion Middle School Auditorium on Thursday evening. She shared about being homeless in high school and growing up with drug-addicted parents. Her mother died of AIDS when Murray was 16. Her father was living in a homeless shelter.

Murray slept on the couch at many of her friends’ homes, and also slept in the subway and at Central Park in New York City. She was failing school.

A teacher at a humanities school pushed her to strive for high grades and commit herself to her studies.

“Are you willing to work for what you want?” he asked her.

Murray took a double course load and earned A’s her final two years of high school and then earned a degree at Harvard.

The teacher who served as a mentor didn’t realize the full circumstances of her background until her story was published in The New York Times, when she was one of six students picked for a scholarship.

Murray said students in challenging situations need mentors and people to challenge them to high expectations. “Don’t just throw help at them,” she said.

When the community at her school realized her circumstances, people pitched in to pay for rent for Murray and her sister and two other homeless students. One woman committed to doing their laundry.

Liz Murray chats with Albion student Brook Drake after Murray’s presentation.

She wrote about her life in the book, Breaking Night: A Memoir, which became the television movie, “Homeless to Harvard.”

Murray said she doesn’t hold ill will toward her parents.

“My parents loved me and I loved them,” she said. “I believe addiction is a disease.”

She also spoke to middle and high school students during assemblies on Thursday. Today she will meet with teachers as part of a professional development day for staff.

Tom Carr, author of Got Grit? also will be meeting with teachers today.

The district welcomed the two authors with messages on the growth mindset and the powers of grit and tenacity.

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