A former sanitation worker from Bowie, Maryland, is heading to Harvard this fall to pursue a law degree.
For three years, Rehan Staton awoke before sunrise to report for work as a garbage man for Bates Trucking & Trash Removal in Bladensburg, Md. Donning his neon-yellow uniform, he spent his mornings collecting trash and cleaning dumpsters.
He would then attend class at the University of Maryland after his shift. Sometimes, there was no time to shower between work and class, so he’d just sit at the back of the lecture hall to avoid judgment from his classmates.
Although it isn’t his first time being a sanitation worker, the 24-year-old hopes to someday pursue his true desire – getting a law degree. And it looks like his dream will come to fruition soon, as he recently got accepted to Harvard Law!
For many years, the Staton family battled against financial difficulties, illnesses, and abandonment.
Rehan said “things were pretty good” until he was eight years old – when his mom left them. After his mother moved back to Sri Lanka, his performance at school started getting worse.
“Things just kept falling on us,” he said. “My dad lost his job at one point and had to start working three jobs in order to provide for us. It got to the point where I barely got to see my father, and a lot of my childhood was very lonely.”
Although his dad worked his fingers to the bone to support the family, they still struggled financially. Lacking food and having no electricity in the house were common situations for them back then. Even in school, Rehan faced difficulties; his teachers were unsupportive and had little faith in his academic abilities.
Despite hating school, there was one thing that Rehan loved – martial arts. However, his dream of becoming a professional boxer was crushed when he suffered from rotator-cuff injuries and digestive problems in 10th grade. He couldn’t go to the doctor because they had no health insurance, and these combined incidents put an end to his aspirations of going pro.
In 12th grade, Rehan applied to several colleges despite having little chance of being accepted because of his low SAT score. And he wasn’t wrong; he got rejected by all the schools he applied to. That’s what led him to work for Bates Trucking & Trash Removal. While he got along with his coworkers, they always pushed him to leave the job and reapply to schools.
“Most of my coworkers were ‘ex-felons,’ but they changed my entire life by the love and support they gave me,” Rehan said. “They encouraged me every day to pursue college. Even the owner of the company and his son encouraged me.”
Brent Bates, the trash company owner’s son, helped Rehan get in touch with a professor at Bowie State University, who helped him appeal his rejection from the institute. They succeeded, and Rehan was accepted in the school. That’s when his true academic capabilities took the spotlight.
“I got a 4.0 GPA, I had a supportive community, and I became the president of organizations,” he said.
Reggie Staton, 27, Rehan’s older brother, was enrolled at Bowie State as a sophomore at the time, but he dropped out to work at the trash company to support the family.
“My brother took a job that people look down on, just so people could look up to me,” Rehan said of his brother’s sacrifice.
After two years at Bowie State, Rehan transferred to the University of Maryland. While he continued to flourish in academics, Rehan’s personal life took a different turn. During his second semester in the institute, his father had a stroke. He started working for the trash company once again to pay for his dad’s medical bills, all while staying in school.
Rehan admits that balancing college and work wasn’t easy, especially because he needed to maintain his grades if he wanted to get into law school. But he had a strong desire to provide for his family, so he continued with the set-up despite its difficulties.
In December 2018, Rehan graduated from the University of Maryland. He was even chosen to be the student commencement speaker during the event. He then took a job at the Robert Bobb Group as an analyst. While working full-time, Rehan took the LSAT and applied to law school.
In March, he received his acceptance letters, and his cousin, Dominic Willis, thought of filming Rehan’s reaction to every letter. You can watch the clip here.
Rehan got accepted to several law schools: Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Southern California, and Pepperdine University. He was wait-listed at Georgetown University, New York University, University of California at Berkeley and UCLA. But the one school he was most happy about getting in was at Harvard Law!
“I felt at that moment, my brother made every sacrifice worth it,” Reggie said about his brother’s Harvard acceptance. “He did what he said he was going to do, and that was to get into a top law school.”
Once he becomes a lawyer, Rehan aspires to represent ex-convicts and death row inmates who faced injustices.
“I want to advocate for those incarcerated who have experienced injustices and whose voices are often suppressed,” he said.
To pay-it-forward, Rehan teamed up with Brad Barbay LSAT Prep to offer free LSAT tutoring to those aspiring to get a law degree.
Rehan’s first trimester at Harvard will be virtual because of the pandemic, but he will be moving to Cambridge in 2021 to continue his studies. Carmie McCook, an executive communications coach who is helping Rehan with his speaking skills, organized a GoFundMe for the hardworking student to help him with his expenses.
As he reflects on his life, Rehan realized what helped him triumph over every problem he faced.
“When I look back at my experiences, I like to think that I made the best of the worst situation. Each tragedy I faced forced me out of my comfort zone, but I was fortunate enough to have a support system to help me thrive in those predicaments,” he said.
This man’s journey towards academic success has been a path full of hardships, setbacks, and sacrifices. But despite these challenges, nothing could keep this man from reaching his full potential.
A big congratulations to you, Rehan!
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2 thoughts on “Student who collected garbage to pay for college is headed to Harvard to earn his law degree”
Great story, thanks for sharing!!
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If he can do it, we can do it, right?