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They differ by generation and culture and gender and color, but Jean-Michel Voltaire and Judith Scheer Krauss are quite alike in overcoming life obstacles that surely would have thwarted most people. On Wednesday, the two New York Law School classmates — Krauss, a Long Island grandmother born in February 1945 in rubble-strewn Budapest; and Voltaire, 31, who came to America from Haiti seven years ago with little money and no education, and speaking only French and Creole — will receive their diplomas as Step One in a fiercely shared determination to succeed as attorneys in the cause of people with troubles they know only too well. Voltaire successfully applied for political asylum before leaving Port-Au-Prince. He lived with his older brother Odrick in Brooklyn while reading everything he could get his hands on, studying for a G.E.D. with French-speaking instructors, and graduating from City University of New York as class valedictorian while working as a security guard. “Being a security guard gives you lots of time for reading,” said Voltaire, currently a law clerk with the New York City Corporation Counsel. “I love reading. I always knew I should get a good education. This was my passion. It’s still my passion.” Krauss arrived in America in 1950, at age 5, just as Sen. Joe McCarthy enthralled the nation with his fantasies of communist infiltrators in the government, media, universities and labor unions. Krauss’ parents — George and Magda Scheer — had had their fill of such political brutality. The late Scheer had spent years in Nazi labor camps while his wife Magda and their children moved through Budapest in hiding, fearful of Nazis looking for homeless Jews. “I was born on the floor of a bombed-out building,” said Krauss. “I weighed 3 pounds because there was starvation going on.” There were two other children to feed, a boy and a girl. “My mother would hold my brother closest to her,” said Krauss. “If his trousers were to be pulled down [by Nazi soldiers], they could tell he was a Jew.” New life in the Bronx did not end the oppression of Krauss’ family. For 10 years, the Immigration and Naturalization Service tried to deport them. In addition, agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation regularly interrogated her parents — doubtless because one of Krauss’ uncles, who had earlier fled from Europe to America, was a registered Socialist party voter. “John Dillinger hasn’t got an FBI file like my family’s file,” said Krauss, who today lives in a prosperous community with her successful husband and high school sweetheart, Alvin Krauss. “The INS was entirely argumentative during interrogations, almost inquisitorial. There was obvious anti-Semitism.” Following what she called “a lot of years and a lot of money for bad advice from unscrupulous immigration lawyers,” a newspaper reporter in Washington, D.C., heard of the family’s plight and persuaded George Smathers, the former Democratic U.S. Senator from Florida, to write a bill granting full relief for George and Magda Scheer and their children. Still, there would be girlhood trouble for Krauss. One day, her school class took a field trip to the Brookhaven National Laboratory. Guards asked if any of the visiting youngsters were non-citizens and therefore obliged to register as visitors separately from others. Krauss could not take U.S. citizenship until age 13. “My teacher was amazed. She kept saying, in front of all the others, ‘You’re an alien?’ She wouldn’t go with me,” Krauss recalled. “She made me walk all the way across the room. Bitch! I remember to this day the echo of that marble floor. And later, the other kids’ taunts — ‘Judy’s an alien! Judy’s an alien! Judy was born in Hungary!’ “ IMPRESSIONS OF AMERICA Voltaire had his own experiences with being an outsider. “Everything looked different, and I felt lost,” said Voltaire of his first impressions of America. “I had to find my own spot. I always knew, though, that my future depended on education. “I knew the challenges were hard, but I didn’t think they were impossible. That was my philosophy. That is still my philosophy,” he said. “And so, I strived.” Professor Lenni B. Benson became Voltaire’s principal mentor at New York Law School, although she only learned in April of his inability to write or speak English seven years ago — or any of the other circumstances of his arrival in New York. Without so much as knowing what he looked like, Professor Benson said she picked out his extra-credit legal memorandum from a large pile and contacted him to offer guidance. “It’s truly a merit story,” said Professor Benson. “His work is that good.” Professor Benson steered Voltaire to his job with the city’s law department, where his supervisor is Margaret Sherman, chief of the Medical Malpractice Unit of the Corporation Counsel. “He took advantage of many opportunities here at the Law Department while working with attorneys on complex cases,” Sherman said. “He developed superior research skills and enthusiastically accepted challenging assignments.” COMMITTED FUTURE In October, Voltaire will leave New York for Washington to begin his post-graduate job as an administrative law clerk in the civil division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Among other passions, he said he would work to make things easier for Haitians claiming political asylum. “The U.S. government should understand that the government in Haiti is still unstable, and they should not be putting Haitians in prison,” he said. “Those [Haitians] with well-founded positions should be a part of this country.” Krauss’ mentor at New York Law likewise issues high marks and foresees a committed future. “Judy came to us with a great interest and background in international human rights, and worked on a difficult [law clinic] case involving Albanian refugees from Kosovo,” said Carol Buckler, a professor and associate dean for professional development. “She was dedicated to the case, and brought real-life perspective to it. “She’s extremely intelligent, extremely well-grounded and has a wonderful sense of humor,” Dean Buckler added. “She came to law school knowing exactly what she wants to do.” Krauss said she plans to work with progressive legal agencies such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Coalition Against Censorship, and perhaps open her own immigration practice. “I don’t have to make big money, just meet my expenses so my husband doesn’t get pissed,” said Krauss. “I’m basically going to be a do-gooder. I’m going to open my mouth and say, ‘It ain’t right, and it’s got to change.’”

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