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Lindza Lubin, 22, and Claude-Alix Crevecoeur, 28, came to the U.S. from their native Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake. Lubin will graduate from Nyack College in December and Crevecoeur this month. Both plan to return to Haiti. / Seth Harrison, The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal News

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- A harrowing journey out of the wreckage of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, that began four years ago will conclude in a triumphant stride across the stage for two Nyack College students graduating this year.

Claude-Alix Crevecoeur, who graduates Saturday, and Lindza Lubin, who will finish in December, are among the first of 11 full-tuition scholarship recipients recruited from Haiti soon after the devastating January 2010 earthquake.

Crevecoeur - known to friends as Fabien - came to the United States for a do-over of sorts. At age 24, he had already finished a four-year telecommunications degree in the Dominican Republic and returned to his family's home in Port-au-Prince. He was a year into his first job, managing network security in the IT department of a local bank.

Then the quake struck, killing hundreds of thousands of people and leaving the city's government, business and educational infrastructure in ruins.

Crevecoeur was laid off by the bank and struggled for months to find a new job. One day, his aunt in Spring Valley called to say that Nyack College, where she worked in the business office, was offering a new scholarship specifically for Haitian students affected by the disaster.

"I thought God was showing me a new path to follow," he said. "I thought, 'There's nothing to lose, really. I've got more to gain than I have to lose.'"

With his second bachelor's degree in hand, Crevecoeur, 28, plans to get some work experience here and then return to Haiti, where he aspires to build a coffee-export business.

Nyack College officials started the $2 million competitive scholarship fund for up to 20 Haitian students soon after the quake. Their intent was to attract young, motivated students who'd agree to earn their four-year degree at the private Christian school and then return home to help their country move forward, said Lesly Milord, the college's international student representative and associate director of admission for the seminary program.

Applicants had to pass an English-as-a-second-language exam and were required to have been in Haiti at the time of the earthquake. More than 400 students applied the first year and, so far, 11 have received scholarships, Milord said. Applications will continue to be accepted until the funds are depleted.

"I think they will go back a changed people," Milord said as the college prepared for Saturday's commencement ceremony. "Whether it's education, whether it's social work, whether it's business administration, we are looking at them as the future of our country."

Lubin learned of the scholarship through a pastor at her family's church in Massachusetts, where they escaped after the earthquake destroyed her mother's business, leaving her parents unable to support her and two younger siblings. Though their home in Bon-Repos wasn't damaged, the family slept outside, fearing aftershocks.

By fall 2012, Lubin was living with two other Haitian women in Brooklyn, and attending class at Nyack College's campus in Manhattan. She was studying psychology and fast becoming fluent in English.

Then came Superstorm Sandy. Water surged into the basement apartment, forcing the women to climb on kitchen counters as it rose to chest-level in a matter of minutes. The door jammed, the windows were barred and they were trapped. No one answered their 911 calls.

"I was like, 'OK, God, if you're gonna let me die here, your will be done,' and I was at peace," Lubin recalled.

She believes someone must have heard her prayers because the door suddenly opened and the women were able to swim through the sludge to safety. The students' textbooks, important documents and electronics were ruined, but they recovered and a professor offered to house Lubin for the rest of her term.

As she looks forward to graduating in a few months, Lubin said she's filled with gratitude for her professors, friends, family and sponsors who've supported her through the last four painstakingly difficult years.

"I sure believe if God took me from Sandy and from the earthquake, he must have bigger plans," she said. "And this literally helps me keep on moving."

The 22-year-old plans to return to her old high school to teach English and encourage her former classmates to pursue college educations. The earthquake interrupted many students' high school careers and, in the aftermath, Lubin said her girlfriends desperately sought stability - they married quickly and began having children.

"They had lost so many things and they needed a way of supporting themselves," she said. "I want to be a role model for them. I just want to be able to tell these girls that I know it's difficult, (but) in the midst of all the problems, there's always opportunities. People are always trying to help you if you know the right door to knock (on)."



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Haitian grads go from despair to diplomas

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