The Big Event

The Story of Self

Soohee Shin, HCC Times Writer

“What does it really take to change a person’s life?” As Liz Murray’s question filled up the auditorium, all grew instantly silent. Sitting at the round tables scattered in the large vibrant room in Turf Valley Resort, attendees of the Big Event on April 9th 2019 featuring Liz Murray savored a taste of a delicious meal while waiting to listen to her journey to becoming a Harvard graduate from homeless. But, her story had more than just a successful life storynice ending. Liz shared how worthy she felt it was to keep going when having faced obstacles and that one should not be a bootstrapper trying to pick themselves up when in a rough life situation. Growing up in the Bronx, where high poverty and crimes were the norms, Liz Murray had countless time she wanted to give up on herself at any point. Raised by her parents, both of whom had severe drug addictions, she did not get to eat most of the time, had to knock on the neighbors’ door to beg for food, and had to confront with the inevitable childhood calamity: she became homeless just after she turned fifteen. It was the biggest moment she wanted to give up on herself, having lost both her mother and Arthur the same year. Arthur was her neighbor who always helped her grow with a belief that she would change people’s lives and that she needed to enroll at a school if she was going to be the one. Yet, she wasn’t sure. Ever since her mom was dying in a hospital in the Bronx, she had dropped out of high school and did not receive any proper education for a while.

Every day in her life involved hanging out with her crew who were also uncertain about their future, shoplifting food in markets, and facing the reality when people stopped answering the door. There was nothing else that was left to help Liz when her father also had to be in the shelter after mother’s death. Days and years passed, and yet she only had what-if lists that hovered in her heart: what if I went back to school? What if I made a visit to see mom more often when she was barely hanging on? What if I worked hard? What if… Liz’s mom had many dreams as well. Liz’s mom said she’d live in a beautiful house, get a degree, and make a good living one day. But not now. Later. Everything became later, Liz said. On the day she buried her mom in the cold box, she buried her dreams and what-ifs as well. She often went to Bobby’s house, one of her great friends, who offered her a good accommodation to stay away from the ferocious reality and to eat and sleep in a cozy environment. Despite the fact that she lost so much already in her life, she emphasized that she was grateful for having people who loved her with all their heart. But, she was aware that she couldn’t sleep in somebody’s house over the entirety of her life. So, she thought about her what-ifs that had been buried deep inside her heart waiting to be taken out. What if I went back to school…? With reverberating old message from Arthur, she decided to knock on the door of high school this time. Seeing her purple hair and pessimistic expression on her face, most educators doubted whether or not she could adapt in an environment that required her to be consistent in attendance. The more rejection she received, the more hope she saw that pushed herself not to give up – she turned down her friends luring her to join the pizza in their apartment instead of going for interviews. And, he credits her prep school for giving her an opportunity to change her life. A teacher named Perry, optimistic sunshine on his face, welcomed her on her first visit to the school and let her today​ take over the what-ifs of yesterday. With only one high school credit she had received in the past, she was now determined to make her dream, getting straight A’s on her transcript, come true. Without letting teachers know that she did not have a place to sleep, she began her grinding to finish every graduation requirement in a short amount of time, which was to be two years.

Although it was not an easy task done under the normal circumstances, she pushed herself for the sake of teachers who were waiting for her to come to classes, passionate to provide all knowledge that could satisfy her quenchless thirst to learn. Liz knew that this was not the opportunity she would catch if she gave up on the point where she did not know where to start from with what she had at that moment. Her will to completely change her life opened her other great opportunities. She managed to go onto a trip to Harvard with one of the top ten students of the school; leading her to ask the student she went with if it could be possible to get in, and, at which point Perry responded that it wasn’t impossible at all with the marvelous achievements she has made become to reality. With the belief that she could get there, her life completely changed when she won the New York Times scholarship by writing an essay on the topic of describing one’s experience of overcoming life obstacles. This brought Liz an acceptance to Harvard and support from her community who were willing to help her with subsidizing her education after her story was featured on the very first page of the publication. One did the laundry for her every semester of high school. Another sent her donation of food and clothes.

“We overlook the power that we have to be able to change the life of one another,” Liz powerfully stated. No one can achieve something only with their ability. It requires heartwarming support from the community they belong to, as once Liz gracefully allowed herself becoming a recipient of those services. With this, it has been her mission to come back to contribute services to make her story useful for other’s lives. This was the purpose of the 2019 Big Event brought by the Leadership Howard County – to strengthen our community by learning from the mistake Liz made in her life and turned into good after all. What Leadership Howard County does today matters, Liz stated. What we do today to bolster up those who feel the wall that separates them from society matters.