From Homeless to Harvard: What It Can Mean to You and I

Published August 3, 2012 by Tabby

The movie From Homeless to Harvard is Liz Murray’s story, her journey, from drug addicted parents, group homes, to school, and eventually, Harvard. Everyone has a journey to college or wherever they go in life. Murray’s is an extreme example of what hard work and iron will can accomplish regardless of environment. (This gives away some details of the movie, but due to the title, I can’t really completely call spoiler alert).

One message I see through her story is that your environment does not have to make you. YOU make you, you make your own decisions, and you get yourself wherever in life through fight, work, stubbornness, and sometimes sheer luck. Murray’s parents were drug addicted, spending their welfare checks on heroin while her and her sister starved. Yet even after becoming homeless at age fifteen and stealing food (and self help books) to survive, she never did drugs. She never fell into that never ending cycle of abuse and dependency. Sure, I can see how if that’s what you see when you grow up, you may be more likely to repeat those actions. But it doesn’t automatically mean you have to. It is YOUR choice. As a child of a parent with an addiction, I almost become livid when young adult addicts, murderers, domestic abusers, etc. say none of their actions are really their fault because their parents weren’t the best role models. You still made the choices. It’s not about oh poor me, give me everything. It’s about being able to be proud of how far you’ve come. Break the cycle, be the change.

Murray’s story also tells of the power of encouragement and how the fact that someone cares enough to push you can mean the world to you and help you keep going. When she was a little girl there was an older lady, who was as poor as her family, who would dig in the dumpster to give Murray tossed out encyclopedias and books to read. The lady would tell her that she better go to school if she didn’t want to be an idiot. Whether it be that one special relative, an attentive teacher, or encouraging friend, that person who gave you the initial push to pursue your goals serves as probably one of the best gifts in life. I was so lucky to have several of these supportive people. In elementary and high school, I had those teachers who used to give me harder and different work than my classmates, offered to send me to science camp to get me away from my home life, filled out college scholarships for me, and gave me the approval and encouragement I so desperately craved. In college, it continued with supportive professors who took the time to praise my work, had me read my essay test answers aloud to the rest of the class, informed me of scholarships, and spoke brutally honest regarding my work. While much of this sounds like I’m a little narcissistic and an academic snob, it wasn’t about that at all. I started college on my eighteenth birthday and as an insecure, shy, timid, worried girl, I had no sense of self, nor what I was capable of. That encouragement gave me the first inkling that maybe I could do something great. Like in Murray’s story, after encouragement from her teacher she began to think of bigger, grander  goals, asking herself, “what if I worked harder?”

Murray wasn’t always the model student. She rarely showed up to school, often because she took care of her ailing mother and because she didn’t know how to learn in a classroom setting. She never really thought of school, telling her terminally ill mother that she’d go back to school when she got better. But then her mother dies, and Murray calls it the slap in the face. She talks about how she always waited for her mother to get better so she could take care of her, like a real mother-daughter relationship. But instead she was always taking care of her mother, who was like her baby. After her mother dies, her teacher tells her “now it’s time to take care of yourself.”

Everyone has a reason, that one driving force, for them to go to and graduate from college. Whether it be that you truly love learning, don’t want to work in retail/food service jobs, or you know the harsh reality of a non-educated life (for some), always hold on to that reason. That reason will be the key to your dedication. When you’re tired from working multiple jobs to pay your tuition, you’ve pulled three all-nighters, or you’re just emotionally drained, remember your main reason for your goals, for your dreams. If that thought isn’t enough to keep you going then it isn’t strong enough and you need to do some intense soul-searching to find the real reason to keep going.

I had a professor in my first or second year of college, after realizing that I hadn’t taken the traditional route to college, said it was probably an interesting story of how I had gotten there. I had never thought about it before. I knew my previous life experiences were probably different from my classmates, after hearing them speak all semester but I never thought of my journey to college as “work.” I was so excited to be there, happy and eager. Now that I’m a professor, it astounds me to hear how much people not only hate being in school, but they hate physically being in a learning environment. It makes me so thankful that I had a little bit of a rougher journey so that I can better appreciate the opportunities and experiences I have had. I’m sometimes told that I make things in my life harder than they need to be. After thinking a bit, I replied that if anything is easy, it’s not worth it. After Murray’s teacher learns of her overload of courses he says, “You’re going to kill yourself.” She replies, “No, I’m gonna live.”

There are several messages that can be learned from Liz Murray’s story in Homeless to Harvard (which is based on a real person with those real experiences). Overall, it serves as an example of taking control of your life, working as hard as inhumanly possible to achieve your goals, and appreciating the journey along the way.

“I knew at that moment I could make excuses for the rest of my life. Or I could push myself and make myself good.”

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One comment on “From Homeless to Harvard: What It Can Mean to You and I

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