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The long road from hardship to Harvard Law

Sanitation work helped him get through college. This year, Rehan Staton got the acceptance letter his dad and brother always knew he deserved.

Rehan Staton (left) starts at Harvard Law this fall; his brother Reggie (right) helped support him through college
Rehan Staton (left) starts at Harvard Law this fall; his brother Reggie (right) helped support him through college

Rehan Staton’s family and friends knew he had promise. Growing up in Bowie, Md., his older brother, Reggie, especially, believed Rehan could go to Harvard.

His co-workers in sanitation pushed Staton to go to college, and he did, graduating from University of Maryland with flying colors in 2018. Now, he’s headed to Harvard Law School.

After a heartfelt open-letter to his brother recalling their childhood poverty and thanking his brother for believing in him got some traction on Facebook, Staton found himself on the “Today” show, “NBC Nightly News With Lester Holt,” and “Good Morning America.”

Tyler Perry heard his story and reached out; he wants to help cover Staton’s first year at Harvard Law, Staton says.

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Others want to help, too, apparently: A GoFundMe titled: “From Hauling Trash to Harvard Law” has raised more than $185k for his tuition.

With his dad now ill, Staton will take care of his father at home in Bowie, Md., while attending online classes at Harvard Law this fall.

“I’m happy classes are going to be virtual because I can at least take care of my dad,” he said.

Staton was 8 when his mother left. He described the time following as “pretty much hell on earth,” with food and housing insecurities. Electricity and heat were often out.

“I used to go to school so hungry my stomach would be growling,” he said. “I did horrible in school as a result.”

In high school, he showed promise in track, only to see a long-lasting stomach illness stall his dreams. He still doesn’t know what ailed him. When he recovered, he turned to boxing — he and his brother dreamed it would be their ticket out of poverty, he says — but shoulder injuries made that impossible.

So Staton got a job as a sanitation worker with Bates Trucking & Trash Removal in 2014. His co-workers urged him to apply to college.

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The company owner’s son, Brent Bates, introduced Staton to a professor at Bowie State University, who encouraged him to apply. He was admitted and flourished, maintaining a high GPA, and getting involved in campus organizations. He later transferred to the University of Maryland to study history.

Reggie dropped out of school to help their father make mortgage payments, so that his brother could flourish — the main thrust of Rehan’s Facebook letter.

Their father, Reginald, held down three jobs to help get Rehan through school. He suffered a stroke in 2017.


Staton balanced school and working full-time at the sanitation company. He would get up at 4 a.m. to work, and be at school by 9 a.m. After class he headed to another shift before ending his nights studying at the library.

When he graduated in 2018, he was chosen to give the commencement speech, a moment of pride he described in his Facebook letter.


Law had been a longtime goal for Staton, and after getting a job at a consulting firm, he took the LSATs and was accepted to Harvard Law — as well as USC, Columbia, and the University of Pennsylvania.

A reaction video, shows Staton, his brother, and their cousin reading the acceptance e-mails and joyously celebrating.

His dad’s reaction?

“I can’t even put it into words. I’m pretty sure his whole world stopped in that moment,” Rehan said. “My dad had a stroke sending me to school. My dad and brother wanted me to go Harvard — I got in. I was able to give them that. If nothing else, I was able to give them that moment.”

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Lauren Daley can be reached at ldaley33@gmail.com. Follow her on Twiiter @laurendaley1.