How A Trash Collector Became A Harvard Law Graduate — And Has Now Raised Over $70K To Help Others Do The Same

The sanitation worker set to graduate from Harvard Law School is giving back to service workers on campus.

Rehan Staton YouTube

A former sanitation worker from Bowie, Maryland is set to graduate from Harvard Law School in May, and he credits his time as a trash collector with uplifting him and setting him towards his goal of becoming a lawyer.

Rehan Staton’s path from sanitation worker to college graduate to Harvard Law student wasn’t a straight line.

His journey shows the power of perseverance and community support.

Staton, 31, told CNN in 2020 that “life was pretty normal until I was eight years old.” That year, his mother moved country, leaving his father to raise him and his brother, Reggie, on his own. Their formerly “solidly middle-class upbringing” was faced with upheaval and financial challenges. Staton's family faced food insecurity while his father worked multiple jobs to keep their household afloat.


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By the time Staton entered 7th grade, his academic achievements began to suffer. “I wasn’t eating meals every day and my dad was working all the time. Sometimes there’d be no electricity at home,” he remembered.

In high school, with the help of an academic tutor and a renewed focus on athletics, Staton's school life improved. He dreamed of becoming a professional boxer after graduation, but his dream was dashed after an unfortunate shoulder injury. 

Staton began work at Bates Trucking & Trash Removal where his coworkers encouraged him to apply to college, which led him to Harvard Law School. Staton spent two years at Bowie State University, then transferred to the University of Maryland, graduating in 2018.


Five years later, Staton is about to graduate from Harvard Law School, and he’s determined to give back to other service workers like himself.

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Staton notes that it was his time as a trash collector that allowed him to attend Harvard Law School.


“I had to go to the ‘bottom’ of the social hierarchy— that’s to say formerly incarcerated sanitation workers— in order to be uplifted,” he stated.

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Along with other Harvard students, Staton has fundraised over $70,000 for the school's service employees.

In the years since Staton's story first went viral, he's done more than just go to college, as explored in an April profile by The Washington Post. It’s been Staton’s goal to honor those who work behind the scenes at Harvard, contributing to the campus running smoothly.

With financial backing from his former employer, Bates Trucking & Trash Removal, Staton has raised money and awareness for service workers through his organization, the Reciprocity Effect. In Staton’s own words, the Reciprocity Effect was designed “to combat the disconnect between staff and students” at Harvard Law School. Its purpose is “to create a more holistic Harvard Law School community whose members reciprocally support one another.”


Speaking about service work, Staton said, “I remember what it’s like working that type of job.”

“When I see them, I see me,” he stated of campus workers. “I have felt very safe, taken care of, and loved, specifically because of the bonds that I have with my support staff. I view them as my equals. They are just my peers.”

As he prepares to graduate from Harvard Law School in just one month, Staton recounts the challenges that led him toward success.

“When I look back at my experiences, I like to think that I made the best of the worst situation. Each tragedy I faced forced me out of my comfort zone, but I was fortunate enough to have a support system to help me thrive in those predicaments,” Staton explained.


His journey speaks volumes about the strength of community support and giving back to those who lift us up.

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Alexandra Blogier is a writer on YourTango's news and entertainment team. She covers celebrity gossip, pop culture analysis and all things to do with the entertainment industry.