For three years, Rehan Staton awoke before sunrise.
He would dress in his neon-yellow uniform about 4 a.m. and head to Bates Trucking & Trash Removal in Bladensburg, Md. He spent his mornings hauling trash and cleaning dumpsters, then went to class at the University of Maryland.
When there was no time to shower between work and class, he would sit at the back of the lecture hall to avoid inevitable glares and judgment from his peers, he said.
Although it wasn’t Staton’s first time being a sanitation worker, he hopes it is his last: The 24-year-old Maryland man was recently accepted to Harvard University’s law school.
The road to receiving the acceptance letter was long and bumpy, he said. For many years, Staton and his family struggled with financial insecurity, illness and abandonment.
“Things were pretty good until I was 8 years old,” said Staton, who grew up in Bowie, Md., and still lives there. “That’s when everything went south.”
“My mom abandoned my dad, my brother and I when she moved back to Sri Lanka,” said Staton. “I was probably too young to notice some of the things that happened, but I know it was bad.”
After his mother left, Staton’s grades started slipping, he said.
“Things just kept falling on us,” Staton said. “My dad lost his job at one point and had to start working three jobs in order to provide for us. It got to the point where I barely got to see my father, and a lot of my childhood was very lonely.”
Although his father worked tirelessly to provide for his sons, the family of three struggled financially.
“There were often times without food on the table and no electricity in the house,” Staton recalled. “That was common throughout my childhood.”
At school, Staton remembers receiving no support. His teachers, he said, showed little faith in his academic abilities.
“One of them even called me handicapped,” Staton said.
Growing up, Staton said, he was “losing in everything.”
“I had no social life, home life was just horrible, and I hated school more than anything,” he said.
But there was one bright spot.
“I was really good at sports,” Staton said. His dream of becoming a professional boxer, he said, is what kept him going.
In 10th grade, Staton had a setback when he became ill with digestive problems and rotator-cuff injuries, quashing his hopes of pursuing a career as an athlete.
“I couldn’t go to the doctor, because we didn’t have health insurance,” Staton said. “I was crushed.”
In 12th grade, Staton applied to colleges, knowing that there was little hope of being accepted given his low SAT score. “I got rejected by 100% of the schools that I applied to,” he said.
That’s when he went to work at Bates Trucking & Trash Removal. But to his surprise, it was his co-workers there who encouraged him to reapply to schools.
“The other sanitation workers were the only people in my life who uplifted me and told me I could be somebody,” Staton said.
Brent Bates, whose father owns the trash company, helped Staton get in touch with a professor at Bowie State University, who assisted him with appealing his rejection from the school. Once Staton was accepted, his academic life began to flourish.
“I got a 4.0 GPA, I had a supportive community, and I became the president of organizations,” Staton said.
His brother, Reggie Staton, 27, was enrolled at Bowie State at the time but decided to drop out to work at the trash company so he could help support his brother and father financially.
“My brother took a job that people look down on, just so people could look up to me,” Rehan Staton said.
But for Staton’s brother, the sacrifice was well worth it, he said.
“My brother is everything to me. I would give up everything to see him succeed,” Reggie Staton said. “He’s my hero.”
After two years at Bowie State, Staton transferred to the University of Maryland to complete his undergraduate degree.
Although he was succeeding as a student, Staton continued to face personal hardships. In his second semester at the University of Maryland, his father suffered a stroke.
Staton started working at the trash company once again to help pay his father’s medical bills while staying in school.
Balancing work and college was not easy, Staton said, especially because he wanted to apply to law school and needed to maintain his grades.
“We all took losses and made sacrifices to take care of each other,” Staton said of his family.
Staton’s cousin, Dominic Willis, 24, agrees. “Rehan’s desire to provide for his family always overtakes whatever issue he is battling.”
After he graduated from the University of Maryland in December 2018 (he was chosen to be student commencement speaker), Staton took a job at the Robert Bobb Group, a national consulting firm in the District of Columbia. He thrived in his role as an analyst.
“For Rehan, the sky is truly the limit,” said Patrick Bobb, 33, chief operating officer at Robert Bobb Group. “He is unbreakable. Whatever Rehan chooses to do in his legal career and beyond, he will definitely achieve.”
While working full-time, Staton took the LSAT and applied to law school. He received his acceptance letters in March.
When Rehan was accepted at Harvard, “I felt at that moment, my brother made every sacrifice worth it,” said Reggie Staton. “He did what he said he was going to do, and that was to get into a top law school.”
Staton was also accepted to the law schools at Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Southern California and Pepperdine University. He was wait-listed at Georgetown University, New York University, University of California at Berkeley and UCLA.
He is now partnering with Brad Barbay LSAT Prep to offer free LSAT tutoring to students.
Staton will be starting at Harvard in the fall and plans to specialize in sports law and become an agent. A GoFundMe has been set up to help him with expenses.
“No one can promise that life will be fair, but if you keep your eyes on the prize, everything will fall into place,” Staton said.