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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Her story: from homeless to Harvard

 •  Girl stories

By Zenaida Serrano
Advertiser Staff Writer


7:30 a.m.-3 p.m. March 30

Hilton Hawaiian Village Tapa Ballroom

Cost: $110 full day, $80 half-day with lunch (11 a.m.-3 p.m.)

For registration information, contact the Junior League of Honolulu: 946-6466, www.juniorleagueofhonolulu.org or info@juniorleagueofhonolulu.org.

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When Liz Murray talks about the importance of determination and dreaming big, people listen.

Murray's mother suffered from schizophrenia; both parents used drugs. She was homeless at 15 and, not long after, lost her mother to an AIDS-related illness. But in the wake of her mother's death, Murray decided to take hold of her future. She returned to high school, finishing in just two years, graduated at the top of her class and earned a full scholarship to Harvard.

"Your past doesn't determine your future," Murray said from her home in Cambridge, Mass. "So long as you are willing to decide for yourself what you would like, it's always possible to work towards that and to get there."

Murray will share her story as the keynote speaker at the Junior League of Honolulu's fifth annual HerStory 2006 conference, open to women of all ages and backgrounds. It's meant to be a day for participants "to recharge, reconnect and get inspired," said Avis Takamatsu, president of the Junior League of Honolulu.

"Our goal is to have an opportunity for the women in our community to come together and celebrate a day for themselves, whether it's focusing on career, family or health matters," Takamatsu said.

The conference will include a welcome by Lillian B. Koller, director of the state Department of Human Services, as well as workshops on health, wellness and fitness; career development and self improvement; and home and office organization.

There will also be a marketplace with vendors featuring health and wellness services, clothing, jewelry, makeup and artwork, among other things.

A highlight of the conference will be Murray's presentation, Takamatsu said.

"Life is malleable," Murray said. "...We can say, 'OK, well if (life) can change for the bad, how come I can't make it change for the good?' "

Today, Murray is a life coach and public speaker. She is studying toward a degree in psychology at Harvard and expects to graduate next year.

"One of the best things anyone ever told me when my life was just really depressed was one of the simplest things ever," Murray said. "A social worker leaned over and said to me, 'Guess what, sweetheart? It just doesn't have to be that way.' "

Reach Zenaida Serrano at zserrano@honoluluadvertiser.com.