Prince George's County

‘Upward Trajectory': Former Maryland Sanitation Worker Graduates From Harvard Law

Rehan Staton used to work shifts as a sanitation worker in Prince George's County before heading to class at the University of Maryland

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From hauling trash to Harvard.

A man who once worked as a sanitation worker in Prince George’s County, Maryland, graduated from Harvard Law School on Thursday.

Rehan Staton, of Bowie, got big cheers as he crossed the stage.

News4 met Staton in 2020, when he found out he got into Harvard.

“Congratulations!” he shouted as he, his brother and his cousin looked online to see whether he had been accepted.

Since then, Staton has made the most of his time at Harvard, staying focused on where he’s going and also reflecting on where he’s been.

“I ended up becoming a garbage man. And that’s when my life changed forever,” he said.

Money has been tight for much of Staton’s life. His father raised him and his brother, Reggie, as a single parent after their mother left.

“There were housing insecurities, food insecurities. A lot of times, we didn’t really know, were we gonna be able to keep our home,” Staton said.

Staton and his brother both took jobs as sanitation workers, and his brother eventually dropped out of college so he could afford to go.

Staton spent his mornings hauling trash before heading off to class at the University of Maryland. On some mornings, he didn’t have enough time to change clothes.

A Maryland man who used to haul trash and clean dumpsters to make ends meet is pursuing his dream of going to Harvard Law School. News4's Aimee Cho reports.

Once Staton got to Harvard, he made it a point to befriend the school custodians. Some were shocked that a student was talking to them, he said.

“She said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, students don’t talk to me. Students would rather look at the wall than talk to me,’” he recalled one worker telling him.

He started a nonprofit called The Reciprocity Effect to give back to the school’s support staff, used his own money to buy them Amazon gift cards and held an award ceremony in their honor.

“I’m simply trying to pay that forward by giving other individuals a time to shine, because I just think we should all be appreciated for the work we put in,” Staton said.

After Staton’s story went viral in 2020, the actor Tyler Perry helped pay his tuition. The funds lightened his load, but he struggled with serious health issues too.

Next up, Staton has a job lined up at a law firm in New York.

“It's nice to be able to say that we finished this. Things are on an upward trajectory. We made people smile through it. I'm just excited,” he said.

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