Liz Murray, who was made famous after her unlikely journey “from homeless to Harvard,” called on people to pursue the dreams in their own lives and help others in the process.
Ms. Murray, 34, served as the keynote speaker Tuesday at Leadership Tyler’s Leadership Live event.
More than 500 people attended the sold-out event, which also included an introduction of Leadership Tyler’s Core Class 29.
Raised by two loving, but drug-addicted parents, Ms. Murray spent about three years on the streets before finishing high school and graduating from Harvard University.
She is the author of “Breaking Night,” a memoir about her life, and the subject of a Lifetime movie.
Today, she lives in New Haven, Connecticut, with her family and commutes to New York, where she is studying psychology at Columbia University.
Here are five takeaways from Ms. Murray’s message:
The Power of the Present
“We push off what matters to us by imagining that there will be a better time later.”
Ms. Murray said when her mother died of AIDS in 1996, it had been about one month since the two had seen each other. Ms. Murray often talked to her mother on the phone and said, “I love you; I’m going to see you later.” But later was too late.
The Power of Perspective
“Every single thing you have you could just as easily not have.”
You would be so much better off if you just stop counting the things you don’t have and start being grateful for the things you do have, Ms. Murray said.
People spend a lot of time and energy complaining about what isn’t right in their world, when they could choose to focus on what is right.
The Power of Possibility
When Ms. Murray’s mother died, she realized her life could be different and there were things she could do to make changes. “What ifs?” filled her mind with possibilities she ultimately pursued and accomplished.
“What if that’s the next school that lets you in?” led her to say no to lunch with friends and yes to a high school interview that opened the door to an education.
“What if I got straight As?” and “What if now is the time to change my life?” led her to pursue the dreams in her heart and accomplish them.
The Power of Expectations
“People will grow into the conversations you create around them.”
When Ms. Murray enrolled at Humanities Preparatory Academy in Manhattan, she gained a mentor, Perry, who demanded her best. He knew she was behind in her schooling, and he knew graduating from high school would take work, but he was willing to work if she was. He expected her to take more than a full course load. When she got a B, he told her it could have been an A. He pushed her further than she at times wanted to be pushed, but he also enabled her to accomplish all she was capable of. During that journey, he took Ms. Murray and other top students on a trip to Boston, where they visited Harvard Yard on the Harvard University campus and he told her, “It would be a reach, but it’s not impossible.”
Perry created a conversation of high expectations and success around Ms. Murray, and she grew into that. In an effort to prove to him what she was capable of, she proved to herself as well.
The Power of People
“The question is not will you make a difference. The question is, what difference are you making already?”
When the New York Times featured Ms. Murray’s story on the front page of its metro section after she received one of six scholarships from the company, many people came to her high school with a desire to help her.
They offered food, clothing and even a rent-free apartment. One woman from New Jersey offered to do her laundry once a week. As that woman drove away with Ms. Murray’s clothes, she said, “I figure I can’t do much, but I can do that.”
There are a lot of problems in this world and the requests to help can be, at times, overwhelming. But it’s not about solving all of the world’s problems, Ms. Murray said. It’s about doing what you can. “Are you willing to do your part?”