Homeless to Harvard: Grad thanks parents for gift of literacy

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A young woman who went from homelessness to graduating from Harvard spoke to Utah audiences Friday. Her remarkable story has a special message for parents.

As a teenager, Liz Murray lived on the streets of New York with her drug-addicted parents. Her mom died of HIV. Her life was hardly the makings of an Ivy League student, but one thing her parents did provide was a better life.

I found that literacy, for me, was connected to my parents' love for me, and nothing replaces that.

–Liz Murray, Harvard graduate

"I really didn't think that much of it. The first night, I slept on the subway," Murray recalls.

She says she ate from Dumpsters a few years before getting a Harvard scholarship. When she tells audiences around the country of her dire circumstances, she always gets the same question.

"How did I make those links in my education? And a big part of that, I have to say, was my dad," Murray says.

The one thing he did consistently was take his daughter to the library and read her books.

"He would check out stacks of books, and he never returned any of them," Murray says. "He had a few aliases at the New York Public Library; and as awful as it is, there was a benefit to me as a child."

They had books in their home, though ill-gotten, and her literacy conquered her poverty.

"Even though I was lacking in so many other resources, being able to read, I could take my exams. I could participate in class," she says.

Murray graduated from high school while camping out in parks. She earned a scholarship and later graduated from Harvard. Her story underscores one of the most valuable resources a parent can give their child.

"I found that literacy, for me, was connected to my parents' love for me, and nothing replaces that," Murray says.

KSL and other Deseret Media Companies have launched an initiative called Read Today. We hope to boost reading in Utah by getting every parent to read every day with their children.

E-mail: dwimmer@ksl.com

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Nadine Wimmer


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