University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown
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President's Medal of Excellence

President's Medal of Excellence

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Elizabeth “Liz” Murray is this year’s recipient of the President’s Medal of Excellence Award.  Ms. Murray was presented with her medal at the Pitt-Johnstown's 39th Commencement ceremony held Saturday, April 30, in the Pitt-Johnstown Sports Center.  She is the second person to receive the award.

In announcing Ms. Murray’s selection for the award, Pitt-Johnstown President Dr. Jem Spectar said, “Liz Murray has triumphed over adversity to become a stunning example of dreaming big.  By sharing her incredible story of overcoming unbelievable challenges in pursuit of a college education, today’s honoree has inspired and motivated countless others to rise above their situations, challenge themselves in ways they never imagined.  By taking control of her own destiny, she transformed herself from a homeless person on the streets of New York to a graduate of Harvard University, one of our country’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning.  Ms. Murray embraces the importance of education and its capacity to transform individuals and communities.  She is a shining example of seizing opportunities and taking the more challenging path to achieve tremendous success.”

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 was depicted in the 2003 made-for-television movie, “From Homeless to Harvard,” which was nominated for three Emmy awards, and 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.

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.

The President’s Medal of Excellence is given to an individual who has strengthened our communities by empowering human beings to achieve their fullest potential, contributing to the dignity of all, and promoting social progress.

 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 5/5/2011 4:20:00 PM