Liz Murray was born September 23, 1980 in Bronx, New York. As the children of drug addicted parents, Liz and her older sister, Lisa, grew accustomed to the neglect and instability that would characterize their childhood. At a very young age, Liz was directly exposed to the most graphic realities of cocaine abuse. Scenes that would horrify most people, like watching her parents shoot up cocaine in the kitchen, were commonplace to her. To pay for drugs, Liz’s parents would often sell household items, like the family's television, and make their children go without basic necessities, such as warm clothes for the frigid New York winters.

Murray’s parents were often jobless, and with no work responsibilities to constrain their schedules, they would let their children do as they pleased. Though she was only a couple of years older, it was Liz's older sister that would drag her out of bed and off to school in the mornings. Liz showed no interest in her academic life, a fact reflected in her spotty attendance and poor grades. But around the age of 15, Liz’s already tenuous home life disintegrated. Her family lost their apartment, and she left with her mother to stay at a friend’s house, while her father and older sister bounced from shelter to shelter.

After her mother became increasingly ill with AIDS, Liz was placed in a group home, an experience which she found dehumanizing (source: She soon left the home and took up residence where she could, whether it was at a friend’s house, on a subway, or in a stairwell.

Liz’s mother died when she was 16, and Liz decided that school was the only thing that could save her from a similarly hopeless fate. She enrolled in an experimental public school, the Humanities Preparatory Academy. She took a double load of courses as she worked her way herself through the high school curriculum in two years (she was starting a year later than other students). Her living situation was no more stable through this period, and she would often be faced with periods of homelessness, relying on the dim light of subways and stairwells to complete her studies.

Murray had visited Harvard University as part of a class trip taken by the top 10 students at her high school. It was then that she realized college was an attainable goal. Murray applied for every scholarship and financial aid award she could find, and she was awarded a scholarship from The New York Times, which gave her the financial means to realize her dream and attend Harvard.

Perhaps the most inspiring aspect of Murray’s story is the compassion and maturity of her spirit. Realizing that addiction is a devastating disease that causes the victim to lose control, Murray has never blamed her parents for the pain and fear that their addiction brought to her life. Though her parent's actions were negligent and caused pain for her and her sister, Liz never doubted their love. Liz even transferred schools, leaving Harvard to continue her studies at New York’s Columbia University in order to be closer with her father, who was also dying from AIDS.

Much of Murray's time since graduation has been spent sharing her inspiring story with others. She has crossed the country as a motivational speaker, including a spot as a keynote speaker at the annual conference for the Society for Human Resources Management in 2006, where she shared the spotlight with such luminaries as General Colin Powell and Pulitzer Prize winning historian David McCullough.

In recognition for the enormous obstacles that she has had to overcome, Liz Murray was awarded one of the first Chutzpah Awards from Oprah Winfrey. In 2003, her struggles and success became the subject of the Emmy-nominated Lifetime TV movie, Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story, starring Thora Birch. Murray served as co-producer on the film, and even appeared in a brief cameo as a social worker. She also penned a memoir about her experiences, Breaking Night, published by Hyperion Books in 2005.

Liz now works as a motivational speaker and advocate for homelessness issues. She speaks with everyone, including high school students, about her experiences, and how they strengthened her individuality. Liz’s credits much of her success to those who helped her, whether it was the friends who stayed with her and gave her a place to sleep or the faculty at the Humanities Preparatory Academy. She is quick to emphasize that her story is as much about individual will and power as it is about love and responsibility for yourself and others (ibid).