By Tony Parra: PNT Staff Writer
High school students from eastern New Mexico left a motivational speech from Liz Murray thinking they don’t have it that bad in their lives and they can overcome the obstacles in their way.
Murray went from being homeless in the streets of New York City to Harvard University and finally to Portales on Tuesday to give an talk to eastern New Mexico teens on the campus of Eastern New Mexico University.
Murray’s speech was part of a day-long youth summit at the college.
“I was impressed with her self-motivation,” said Perla Pillado, a peer leader from the Youth Opportunities Center in Portales. “She noticed that she needed to do something versus not doing anything with her life.”
Murray said she was homeless at age 15. Her mother died of AIDS and her father lived in a shelter. She was a dropout, but soon came to the realization that she could still make something out of her life.
Murray went back to high school, won a scholarship and went to Harvard University. She then transferred to Columbia University in New York, where she is currently majoring in Sociology and Psychology.
There was a movie made about her life and her struggles, “Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story.” The 2003 drama movie staring Thora Birch as Murray was televised on the Lifetime cable channel. Her story was also told in an issue of New York Times.
Samantha Ray, one of the teens in attendance, said she realized even more how protected and sheltered she is as compared to those who live in New York City.
“It only makes me want to work harder,” Ray said after listening to Murray.
Murray conveyed to high school students from Eastern New Mexico University’s Upward Bound and GEAR-UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) programs that if she can overcome those obstacles then they can overcome their obstacles. Teens from Job Corps and the Youth Opportunities Center in Roosevelt County also attended the youth summit.
Her message was simple — view life with optimism.
“I think with anything there’s a risk involved,” Marley Armstrong, a Portales High School junior, said. “If you really feel that you need to be a different place to succeed you have to do it.”
Murray said the crowd was attentive and cooperative and said it was a change from the fighting during her motivational speeches at the New York City high schools. When Murray was 10 years old she helped take care of her mother, who had AIDS and her health was breaking down.
“I learned how to find happiness,” Murray said. “After graduating from school, I’m holding my own seminars. I want to make a deep impact in people’s lives. I grew up in a dead house. I want to have millions of kids. I want a house full of life.”
Murray said she currently takes care of her father who is HIV positive.
There were more than 200 people in attendance on Tuesday morning to listen to Murray. The students participated in workshops after the speech so they could find out the resources they have access to in the community and how they can go about achieving their goals.
Some of the students are already heading into the right direction. Marlon Wright, a Clovis High School junior, was one of the Upward Bound students who attended the youth summit. Wright said with the help of Upward Bound administrators and counselors he is planning for his future after high school. Wright wants to play collegiate tennis and they are helping him find scholarships. His goal is to attend Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, La.