An Army veteran and Drury graduate encourages fellow vets to teach for America

“Growing up in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, there are only four options: jail, death, toughing it out, or using education as a vessel to get out of the black hole,” said Shaun Murphy. Murphy was able to attain his education and he continued to succeed in the military and private life.

Shaun Murphy at the White House

Murphy is an Army veteran and a 2009 Drury graduate who continued his service to the nation by joining Teach For America. He currently leads the Teach For America initiative that recruits military veterans called “You served America, now Teach for America.” This past April, First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden recognized Murphy for his work. Video of that recognition was featured on C-SPAN.

Education was always a top priority in Murphy’s life. “My mom came to the States from Barbados,” he said. “I lived in a single parent household in a rough neighborhood. Attaining the ‘American Dream’ was a serious goal for me and I knew the only way to do that was with an education.” Murphy joined the Army in 1998 and transitioned out in August 2006 as a staff sergeant. While on active duty, he was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri along with Fort Jackson in South Carolina, Fort Hood in Texas, and South Korea. He enrolled in evening and online classes with Drury’s College of Continuing Professional Studies and worked his way to associates and bachelor’s degrees. While at Drury, Murphy met Senior Academic Advisor and Career Counselor Tammie Black. “She laid down the blue print for my education and coached me through the long journey,” he said. “Her commitment to her work is second to none, and I am grateful to have had her as an advisor.”

A handful of milestones happened for Murphy in 2009. “I walked and received my degree from Drury, turned 30 and got accepted into Teach For America. It was a good year!” he said. Murphy wanted to join Teach for America for two main reasons: It gave him the opportunity to be a positive black male role model for young kids and it was a platform to continue serving. “From my background, I knew what it was like to grow up without that role model. I wanted to be someone who showed kids that they could be successful,” Murphy said.

Teach for America placed Murphy as a special education teacher at Prestige Academy, an all-boys middle school in Wilmington, Delaware. He was there from 2009-2012 before being approached by the organization to lead an initiative to recruit veterans into Teach For America. “Veterans have outstanding qualities: leadership, commitment to service, a strong work ethic and discipline. When you look closely, the qualities found in highly effective teachers and veterans are the same,” he said.

Taking the lead on this initiative led to an invitation from the White House for Murphy’s recognition. On April 30, the First Lady and the Vice President recognized Murphy’s accomplishments. “I soaked up the opportunity,” he said. “It was amazing that a kid from Brooklyn could be recognized on this level.”

The biggest takeaway has been the realization that anything is possible with hard work and humility. “Everyone has a different starting point but it boils down to the pursuit and desire of getting to the next level,” said Murphy. “I appreciate the journey and I’m thankful for my mom’s sacrifice of making sure I didn’t get caught up in the streets.” Murphy’s hope for his scholars is that they look at his life as an example of what is possible, “It’s important to be a dreamer. People may think you are crazy, but don’t worry about them.”

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Story by Amber Perdue, a May 2013 Drury graduate.