The man who worked as a trash hauler in Maryland before earning international news headlines by gaining admission into the prestigious Harvard Law School has graduated.
Rehan Staton received his juris doctorate from Harvard after walking across the stage in his cap and gown during a commencement ceremony on Thursday afternoon at the school’s campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
To cap off what is likely to be among the most uplifting stories of this spring’s US university graduation season, spectators treated Staton to some of the loudest cheers heard during the 90-minute ceremony, including one person who could clearly be heard shouting: “My boy – go, Rehan!”
As a profile published recently on Harvard’s website recounted, Staton and his brother were raised by their father, who worked as many as three jobs at a time as he tried to make ends meet. Even then, the family did not always have a reliable supply of food or electricity.
Staton at one point dreamed of a professional career in taekwondo or boxing, hoping that he could earn a fortune in either sport which would let him lift his family out of poverty. But a serious injury to his shoulder cut those aspirations short, and after high school he got a job alongside his older brother, Reggie, working for a trash and recycling company in Bladensburg, Maryland.
He has openly discussed how some of his colleagues at that job had previously spent time in prison, and they pleaded with him to do his absolute best to get a college education. Staton eventually enrolled at Bowie State University, just south of Baltimore, and later transferred to the University of Maryland.
Staton made remarkable sacrifices to set himself up for success, and so did his family. His brother dropped out of college after their father had a stroke to better support their family financially.
Staton also worked, cleaning garbage bins and collecting trash for three hours in the mornings beginning at 4am before going to classes. But, with his brother’s help, he could also dedicate a substantial amount of his time to studying.
It all paid off. Staton won the distinction of serving as his undergraduate class’s commencement speaker at Maryland, and five of the nine law schools to which he applied accepted him.
He chose to attend Harvard in 2020, and he became a viral media sensation when the news reported on his family’s story.
Staton told Harvard’s website that the news coverage on him was uncomfortable at times. “The media presented it as a happy story – something like, ‘Garbage Man Applies to Harvard, Gets In,’” he said. “But I did it to save my family.”
However, he acknowledges that there were benefits to the attention.
Notably, when Tyler Perry heard Staton’s story, the renowned film-maker stepped up to cover his tuition. Many law professors and attorneys also came forward to mentor Staton.
In addition to pursuing his law degree at Harvard, Staton raised more than $70,000 in donations for the school’s support staff, including food servers, custodians and electricians. The effort led him to found a movement which he has dubbed the Reciprocity Effect, which aims to assist support staff at other universities as well as corporations.
Staton has been preparing to begin a job at a New York law firm which he lined up before graduating alongside more than 730 fellow Harvard Law School students. His accomplishments were recently honored during a break in action at a Boston Celtics playoff basketball game. But he said to Harvard that he is taking every chance he can to let everyone know his success was not at all an individual effort.
Staton, 27, said his boss at the Bladensburg trash company would let him leave work to go to class and then come back. A cousin helped him study for the law school admission test. And then there’s his dad, his brother, and, of course, Perry.
“Although I get credit for working hard, working was the easy part because that I could control,” Staton said. “But I just happened to be around people who cared enough about me.
“I got lucky – but I made the most of my luck.”
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