Maryland trash collector Rehan Staton has traded in his uniform for an acceptance letter to Harvard Law School.
Staton has come a long way. From abandonment and poverty as a child, to classes between early shift work as a waste management employee. He is now on the path to earn a law degree from Harvard. And while Staton and his family are celebrating today, the victory was a long time coming — and far from assured.
The 24-year-old Bowie, Maryland, native and his brother Reggie were abandoned by their mother when he was just eight years old. “That’s when everything went south,” Staton remembered. “My mom abandoned my dad, my brother, and I when she moved back to Sri Lanka,” he said. “I was probably too young to notice some of the things that happened, but I know it was bad.”
What he did notice was a childhood spent alone, as his father toiled day and night to keep his children together: “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.”
“There were often times without food on the table and no electricity in the house,” he added. “That was common throughout my childhood.” Of course, the trauma of desperate poverty manifested in other areas of life. Staton struggled in school, where one of his teachers even suggested he was “handicapped.”
And while Staton excelled in sports, physical challenges would rob him of even that hope to be elevated from his situation. Digestive issues and a rotator cuff injury proved insurmountable without medical help. “I couldn’t go to the doctor, because we didn’t have health insurance,” Staton said. “I was crushed.” Still, he applied to various colleges in hope of any avenue of escape.
He was denied by every single one.
Staton found himself at Bates Trucking & Trash Removal, where he might well have expected to remain. But what Staton found was an expected support system. After getting to know him, Staton’s coworkers were adamant he give his future another shot.
Brent Bates — son of the garbage removal company’s owner — went so far as to help Staton get in contact with a professor at Bowie State University, who then helped him to appeal his rejection from the institution. Given support, Staton proved just how much of a difference it could make.
“I got a 4.0 GPA, I had a supportive community, and I became the president of organizations,” Staton said. Seeing his brother finally get the chance to succeed, Reggie put his own education on hold to ensure Rehan got the shot he deserved.
Reggie temporarily bowed out of Bowie State to work at the Bates’ trash company so his brother could focus on his studies. “My brother is everything to me. I would give up everything to see him succeed,” Reggie said. “He’s my hero.”
Staton completed his undergraduate degree at University of Maryland, taking a job as an analyst at the Robert Bobb Group, a national consulting firm in the District of Columbia. Once again, he excelled. “For Rehan, the sky is truly the limit,” said Robert Bobb Group COO Patrick Bobb. “He is unbreakable. Whatever Rehan chooses to do in his legal career and beyond, he will definitely achieve.”
Staton worked full time while studying for — and eventually passing — the LSAT. Then he set his sights on the next step in his journey. Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Southern California, Pepperdine University, and Harvard Law School all wanted him. He chose Harvard.
Staton will head to class this fall, supported by his family, his former co-workers, his academic support system, and a GoFundMe started to counteract some of the myriad expenses that come hitched to such a major opportunity. Carmie McCook, the woman who set it up, summarizes the journey:
Although I’m not his mother, I’m as proud as any parent could be because dear, kind, and amazing Rehan has been accepted to Harvard Law School! Yes, he is smart, but what makes his achievement even more admirable is his courageous journey to this moment. His has been a path filled with poverty, roadblocks, setbacks, sacrifices, illnesses, and heartbreak.
But what has Rehan Staton learned from the experience? “No one can promise that life will be fair,” he said, “but if you keep your eyes on the prize, everything will fall into place.” All he needed was a chance to succeed.