Maryland Native Headed To Harvard Law After Working As A Trash Collector To Help Family's Finances
"I was always angry and hungry," Rehan Staton said. "It affected my academic work at school and I started to perform horribly."
July 13, 2020 at 2:57 pm
With sacrifice from his brother, the diligence of his father, years of picking up trash and a high level of resiliency — a Maryland college graduate has been admitted to Harvard Law School.
Rehan Staton told his story to Good Morning America, detailing the challenges he had to overcome to make it to Harvard. The native of Bowie, Maryland, said his family was living comfortably until he was 8 years old. Staton's life turned at that point because his mother left the country and his father became unemployed, eventually settling for three part-time jobs. Yet, the family could barely afford to pay the bills.
"I would have to sleep with a heavy jacket on when it was cold," the 24-year-old told GMA. "I was always angry and hungry. It affected my academic work at school and I started to perform horribly."
As he went from the top of his class to the bottom, Staton's seventh-grade teacher recommended special education for the boy. But Staton's father came up with a different idea: sending his son to an aerospace engineer who offered free tutoring.
The plan paid off.
"I ended up making honor roll the rest of the year," the Harvard-bound student said.
Staton faced another setback in high school when he trained to become a professional boxer and suffered a shoulder injury, which he was unable to treat because he didn't have medical insurance. Putting all his focus back into academics, the determined student applied for several colleges. But all of the schools rejected him.
Nonetheless, Staton still needed a job. So he started working as a trash collector at a local sanitation company. Many of his co-workers, however, didn't understand why Staton was working in sanitation.
"They would say, 'You're smart,'" Staton said. "'You're too young to be here. Go to college and come back if it doesn't work out.'"
Staton said the job was enlightening.
"I said, 'I want to go work here because here's something I could do to help my dad pay for the mortgage and things of that nature.' What I didn't expect to happen was, most of the people I worked with were formerly incarcerated," Staton told CBS News. "So, it caught me by surprise how much they uplifted me and really wanted me to make something of myself."
Staton's colleagues also went beyond offering advice by putting him in touch with a professor at Bowie State University. Although the school had previously rejected Staton, the professor was impressed with the young man and convinced the board to rethink the decision.
That's when Staton's older brother, Reggie, decided to drop out of school and work full-time to help the family pay the bills while allowing his sibling to attend school.
With his brother's sacrifice, Staton was able to enroll at the school in 2014 and transfer to the University of Maryland two years later. Staton continued to excel as a student while still working as a garbage collector. He then graduated and found a job at a political consulting firm in Washington, D.C.
Staton also applied for law school at that time and got accepted to several institutions, including the University of Southern California, Columbia University, and the University of Pennsylvania. But the Maryland native chose to attend Harvard in the fall.
"Love yourself enough to get what you want out of life," Staton said. "You can always see the light in any dark situation, and you need to hold on to that light."
In a letter on Facebook, Staton expressed his gratitude for his brother.
"I never thought I would be accepted to Harvard Law School. I find it sort of humorous because there was a time when you were the only one who thought I would even go to college. Crazy right?" he wrote. "With that being said, it’s crazy how I was recently called 'self-made.' If you chuckled, I know, it made me laugh too. However, the comment made me not only want to thank you, but also to reflect on the doors you opened for me."
The law student also reflected on the journey he has shared with his brother, noting how Reggie would even encourage him to pursue his dreams in high school.
"Remember when I was in 10th grade and that summer I ran a 1:52 for the 800m after we trained throughout the summer? It’s crazy because I even started like two seconds late! We all thought I was about to become a phenom and break records," Staton wrote. "I kept telling you that USC is going to give me a full ride by the time I am senior. You kept telling me how I would change all our lives once the season started. But life screwed us again."
The former standout student-athlete noted how a protein supplement damaged his stomach and derailed his dreams, but his brother was always there to show him love.
"As much as you're investing into yourself, you have others investing into you too," Staton told CBS News. "And you got to make sure that investment is good as long as it's genuine."