After Harvard, A New Home

Murray Tells Story of Troubled Time at Harvard

The camera pans out on actress Thora Birch, seated in what is supposed to be a Harvard classroom. The end music plays as a message appears on the screen: “Elizabeth Murray left Harvard in the Spring of 2003. She continues to pursue her college education.”

This is where women’s television network Lifetime leaves Murray—the real world protagonist of their made-for-tv movie “Homeless to Harvard,” released last week.

The closing update is indeed only a footnote to Murray’s improbable journey from the streets of New York City to Canaday Hall.

But, while not as dramatic as the triumph over poverty, drug abuse and homelessness that Lifetime chronicles, the three years since Murray first set foot in a Harvard classroom add a shade of complexity to her story.

In that time, Murray has begun an autobiography, co-produced a movie, been befriended by celebrities and become one herself.

But she has also struggled at Harvard—academically and socially.

She never put down roots or made close friends, and spent much of the three years away from Cambridge.

While enrolled, those who knew her say, she often was away—at home or, later, on speaking tours born of her newfound fame.

She withdrew from Harvard for a year after her completing only her first semester.

And this winter she left for a second, and presumably final time.

Now, Murray is back at home in New York City, taking care of her family, and thinking about her future—including plans to apply to college again.

Sitting last weekend with two friends in the same Bronx diner where she used to fall asleep after long days on the streets, the 23-year-old Murray speaks with candor about the difficulties she faced growing up. She remains guarded, however, about the details of her life since she left the streets of the Bronx for Cambridge.

But piecing together what she does say, and what those who knew her at Harvard remember, it seems like Murray was never truly able to leave her former life behind.

And when hit with adversity at Harvard, Murray was hindered, not helped, by the independence that had gotten her so far.

The Story of a Lifetime

Murray and her older sister grew up in a dingy apartment with their parents—both drug addicts—and attended various public schools through eighth grade.