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 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,” he said. “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.”

Rehan Staton (left) and his brother, Reggie, worked for Bates Trucking & Trash Removal periodically for several years to help their father pay the bills.
Family photo
Rehan Staton (left) and his brother, Reggie, worked for Bates Trucking & Trash Removal periodically for several years to help their father pay the bills.

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.”

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 at Bowie High School, Staton hit 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 college, 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 coworkers there who encouraged him to reapply to college.

“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 Bowie State University professor, who assisted him with appealing his rejection from the school. Once Staton was ultimately accepted, his academic life finally began to flourish.

“I got a 4.0 GPA, I had a supportive community, and I became the president of organizations,” Staton said.

At the time, his brother, Reggie Staton, 27, was also enrolled at Bowie State but decided to drop out to work at the trash company so he could help financially support his brother and father.

“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.

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.

Despite continuing to battle stomach issues after graduation, Staton 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 got into 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. He is now partnering with Brad Barbay LSAT Prep to offer free LSAT tutoring to students.

Staton will be starting at Harvard Law School in the fall and plans to eventually 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.