University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown
Pitt-Johnstown Seal

Commencement Speaker to Share Her "Homeless to Harvard" Story

Commencement Speaker to Share Her "Homeless to Harvard" Story

Article Body

     The University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown will hold its 39th annual Commencement ceremony on, April 30.  The ceremony will begin at 1 p.m. on the Campus Mall (in the event of inclement weather, the ceremony will be held in the Pitt-Johnstown Sports Center).  The ceremony, which will be presided over by Pitt-Johnstown President Dr. Jem Spectar, will honor 550 graduates who completed requirements for Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, or Associate of Science degrees in August or December 2010, or are completing requirements in April or June of this year.  Approximately 360 seniors are expected to process in the ceremony.

     Elizabeth "Liz" Murray, whose life story was depicted in the 2003 made-for-television movie entitled "From Homeless to Harvard," will be this year's Commencement speaker.  Ms. Murray has triumphed over adversity to become an example of the importance of dreaming big.  The child of cocaine-addicted parents in the Bronx, Ms. Murray's early life was bitterly grim.  Homeless at the age of 15 after her mother died from AIDS and her father moved to a homeless shelter, she lived on the streets, riding the subway all night, and eating from dumpsters.  Supporting herself and her sister, she imagined her life could be much better than it was.  She said, "I started to grasp the value of the lessons learned while living on the streets.  I knew, after overcoming those daily obstacles, that next to nothing could hold me down.”  Determined to take charge of her life, Ms. Murray enrolled in the Humanities Preparatory Academy in New York and, despite starting high school later than most students, she graduated in only two years while camping out in New York City parks and subway stations.   She overcame incredible odds again when she received a full scholarship and acceptance to Harvard University in 2000 and began her studies in the fall of 2001. 

     After a year of study, she left Harvard to care for her father, who was dying from AIDS.  During his illness, she enrolled at Columbia University.  She eventually returned to Harvard where she graduated in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology. 

     Ms. Murray's story takes audiences on a very personal journey where she achieves the improbable.  In addition to the television movie, which was nominated for three Emmy awards, her story was captured in her 2010 memoir entitled Breaking Night, which landed on The New York Times Bestseller List within one week.    She has been featured on ABC News, 20/20, Good Morning America, the Today Show, and CNN.  In addition to receiving the White House Project's Role Model Award and a Christopher Award, she is the recipient of Oprah Winfrey's first-ever Chutzpah Award.   Her story of courage, commitment, and achievement has enabled her to share the stage with world luminaries including Steven Covey, Mikhail Gorbachev, the Dali Lama, and Tony Blair. 

     Today, Ms. Murray is founder and director of Manifest Living, a New York-based company whose mission is "to empower adults to create the extraordinary in their own lives."

     Ms. Murray will be joined on the platform by Jacob Shirk, representing the Student Government Association.  Mr. Shirk, son of Kenneth and Catherine Shirk, is graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology.  At this year's Academic Honors Convocation, he received the Charles Kunkle, Jr. Leadership Award.  In addition to serving as President of the Student Government Association, he is actively involved in the Phi Eta Sigma honor society, Habitat for Humanity, Sigma Tau Gamma, and Pitt-Johnstown's intramural program.  In August, he will attend the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine. 

     Dr. Janet Grady, interim vice president for academic affairs, will present the candidates for degrees. Gladys Go '92, president of the Pitt-Johnstown Alumni Association, will recognize graduates as new members of the Association.

     Brian Houston, assistant professor of civil engineering technology, will serve as grand marshal for the ceremonies, which will include a procession of graduates, faculty, staff, administration, and members of the Pitt-Johnstown Advisory Board.  Faculty marshals are Elizabeth Katrancha, instructor of nursing; Dr. Mary Lavine, associate professor of geography; Dr. Thomas Malosh, assistant professor of chemistry; Dr. Kristen Majocha, assistant professor of communication; Dr. Manisha Nigam, instructor of chemistry; and Dr. Mark Previte, assistant professor of secondary education. 

     Founded in 1927, Pitt-Johnstown is located in the Laurel Highlands of Western Pennsylvania and is the first and largest regional campus of the University of Pittsburgh.  The University offers a high-quality educational experience in a supportive living-learning environment designed to prepare students for the real world of the 21st century.  Pitt-Johnstown is recognized by U.S.News & World Report as a “Best Baccalaureate College,” by the Princeton Review as a “Best Northeastern College,” and by G.I. Jobs as a “Military Friendly School.”  Additionally, Pitt-Johnstown has been named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll.

Pitt-Johnstown…at the forefront of leading baccalaureate colleges…


Posted by Shook, Kimberly on 4/14/2011 10:15:00 AM