Arizona State University alumnus Prince Murray’s road from war-torn Liberia to ASU to the White House was paved with hardship and tragedy — but with resilience, hard work and hope he always felt he would make it.
“You know what I have always told myself? I say, ‘If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody will believe in you,’” said Murray, 30, who graduated ASU in 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and international relations with honors from Barrett, The Honors College.
“I feel like if you have passion for something you want to do, believe in yourself, and if you are determined and work hard there’s nothing that’s impossible.”
That strong belief in himself and life’s possibilities helped Murray get through some very tough times and move on to opportunities.
One such opportunity came in the form of a paid internship in the White House in Washington, D.C.
Earlier this year, Murray worked in the Office of Presidential Correspondence, assisting with special projects and processing mail from constituents.
Murray said the highlights of his internship included a class photo with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and attending an official state visit by the South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and First Lady Kim Keon-hee. He also met First Lady Jill Biden when he helped at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll.
Murray was born and raised in the West African country of Liberia, which saw civil war in 1989–1997 and 1999–2003. In 2006, he immigrated to the U.S. as a refugee after the death of his older brother.
Due to the conflicts and lack of family resources, Murray stopped attending school in the second grade. When he arrived in the U.S., he was placed in eighth grade because of his age but struggled through middle and high school.
Murray had to repeat the 12th grade three times and take a state standardized test nine times before graduating high school in December 2013 with a 2.3 GPA.
In 2014, he enrolled in Glendale Community College, where he joined the honors program and participated in The Fund for American Studies program in Washington, D.C.
“I was so nervous because, imagine, it’s a summer program and you have students from other universities like Harvard, Stanford and Yale, and I was at a community college,” he said.
“I was taking a class in public policy and I met students from diverse backgrounds and they inspired me. It was very challenging, but at the end of the day I learned a lot. Being there with them made me want to work harder.”
He then began his work in politics, first interning for U.S. Congressman Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., and then working with the Ohio Democratic Party as a field organizer for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016.
In 2018, he received two associate degrees from GCC — one in general studies and another in liberal arts — with distinction. He transferred to ASU, where he flourished as an undergraduate and continued his involvement in politics and community service.
Murray now has his sights set on attending Harvard or Yale to pursue a law degree and eventually working as an attorney specializing in criminal and civil law or immigration.
“ASU has changed my life for the better,” he said, adding that he credits Gina Woodall, teaching professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies; Barrett Honors Faculty Fellow April Miller; and Barrett Director of Admissions Keith Southergill with helping him succeed as an undergraduate.
Woodall mentored Murray and recommended him for the White House internship, and Miller pushed him to excel in honors courses.
“When I first came to Barrett, I was so nervous. When I first walked into class, there were so many students who I thought were smarter than me. I wasn’t sure I could do it. But she motivated me. She told me I could do it. Dr. Miller really challenged me. She was one of the toughest professors I ever had, but she made me a better thinker and a better writer,” he said.
“That’s what makes Barrett an exceptional institution. … You have faculty members and staff who believe in your ability to excel,” Murray said. “Being in Barrett was one of the best decisions I ever made academically.”
Matthew Dempsey and Charles Ripley, both at ASU’s School of Politics and Global Studies, also played an important role in his educational journey, he added.
Murray said he wants to extend the inspiration he received at ASU to others and encourage them to excel as students and beyond.
“I had a lot of issues when I came to the U.S. I missed a lot of years of school and, you know, I went through a lot, but I was determined. If there’s one thing I would tell them, it is know your passion. Your passion will take you far. And always be consistent in everything you do. Be persistently dedicated. Challenge yourself and get involved and take advantage of all the resources that are available to you.”
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