24-Year-Old Student Who Collected Garbage to Pay for College Is Admitted to Harvard Law School
"It was the people that were on the bottom of the hierarchy who really lifted me up," Rehan Staton said
Rehan Staton, a hard-working college student from Maryland, landed a spot at one of the most prestigious law schools in the country after collecting garbage to make ends meet.
"It was the people that were on the bottom of the hierarchy who really lifted me up," Staton told CBS News of his path to Harvard Law School. "It helps me keep my eyes on the prize. If this were just about me and just fighting for myself, I definitely would have quit."
Staton spent years waking up in the early morning hours to collect trash for Bates Trucking & Trash Removal before attending class at the University of Maryland. It was an arduous job that left him no time to shower, he recalled to the Boston Globe, and he often sat in the back of his lecture halls to steer clear of classmates. But the 24-year-old worked this tireless schedule to overcome some of the numerous obstacles he's faced.
From an early age, Staton said his father struggled to raise him and his older brother as a single parent.
“My mom abandoned my dad, my brother and I when she moved back to Sri Lanka,” Staton told the newspaper. “I was probably too young to notice some of the things that happened, but I know it was bad.”
"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."
These financial difficulties often meant the family went without food or electricity, Staton recalled.
Despite this, Staton excelled in high school while also training to become a professional boxer. But his dreams were diverted when he experienced a double shoulder injury during his senior year, CNN reported. When he didn't get into college, Staton signed up to become a sanitation worker — and the experience would be life-changing.
"It was the first time in my life people were lifting me up for the sake of lifting me up and not because I was good at sports," Staton told the outlet.
Soon, a higher-up at the company caught wind of Staton's story and took him to meet a professor at Bowie State University. That professor eventually persuaded the university's admissions board to allow Staton to enroll, and he started that year.
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Staton later transferred to the University of Maryland and set his sights on going to law school. But during his studies, his father experienced a stroke, and Staton rejoined Bates Trucking & Trash Removal to support his family and continue his schooling.
"We all took losses and made sacrifices to take care of each other," Staton told the Boston Globe.
After graduating in 2018, Staton took an analyst job at a consulting firm in Washington D.C. He eventually applied to law school, and was accepted to Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Southern California and Pepperdine University. (Georgetown University; New York University; the University of California, Berkeley; and UCLA placed him on their waitlist.)
Ultimately, Staton chose Harvard Law School, and he'll start class this fall. A GoFundMe has been set up to raise funds for Staton's tuition and has raised more than $46,000 as of Wednesday afternoon.
"When I look back at my experiences, I like to think that I made the best of the worst situation," Staton told CNN. "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."