Meet Rehan Staton, a garbage collector who is now a Harvard law grad

Mildred Europa Taylor June 07, 2023
Photo courtesy Rehan Staton

At the 2023 Harvard Law School commencement ceremony in May, Rehan Staton was among the over 700 graduates who walked the stage but it took a lot to get there. At 24, while schooling at the University of Maryland, Staton was also working for Bates Trucking and Trash Removal to pay for his education and help his family. 

His path has been “filled with poverty, roadblocks, setbacks, sacrifices, illnesses, and heartbreak,” a GoFundMe set up for him stated. Abandoned by his mother at age 8, Staton and his brother were raised by their father who worked three jobs to put food on the table. The financial problems at home negatively affected Staton’s performance in school, and his teachers even made his situation worse. School authorities tried to put him in special education classes and one of his teachers even called him handicapped. Staton was good at sports but he hated school because of how he was treated.

And when he failed to enter college, he and his brother began working as trash collectors to support their father who had developed a stroke. While working at the sanitation company, Staton’s fellow workers urged him to go to college and he listened. He graduated from the University of Maryland with a GPA of 3.84 and started working with a Washington, D.C., consulting firm to enable him to continue supporting his home. 

In 2020, DMV-native Staton was accepted into Harvard Law School, where he intended to specialize in sports law to enable him to become an agent. His story made headlines that year and filmmaker Tyler Perry disclosed that he would help him pay for his law school education.

At the time, Staton had started his GoFundMe to help him to take care of his tuition and father’s health needs while he was in school. Now a law school graduate, Staton received his juris doctorate last month and is thankful to all those who helped him to succeed. While in school, he never forgot where he came from so in February 2022, he used savings from his summer job at a D.C. office to buy 100 Amazon gift cards and gave them to support staff at his university.

He subsequently started The Reciprocity Project, a nonprofit organization whose aim is to create “a more holistic HLS [Harvard Law School] community whose members reciprocally support one another.” Following his graduation in May, Staton said he will be moving to New York City soon and will be working at the Paul Weiss law firm. 

“If I could talk to my younger self still living in poverty, I would tell him this: Regardless of what you lack, know that your resilience, hope, and the rich love and support you endlessly receive from your communities (no matter how big or small) will carry you through life’s greatest challenges,” the law school graduate wrote on Facebook.

Last Edited by:Editor Updated: June 11, 2023


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