Former Sanitation Worker to Earn Harvard Law Degree and Celebrate by Giving Back

Side-by-side photos of former trash collector Rehan Staton and then as a Harvard Law student

Rehan Staton first made waves in 2020 after he was accepted into Harvard Law School. His road there wasn't easy. He became a sanitation worker to help his family make ends meet. Then, in a truly selfless act of unconditional love, his brother Reggie dropped out of college so that Staton afford to go. Now, three years later, all the obstacles are now behind him and Staton is about to earn his degree. In celebration of this incredible achievement, he wants to honor the sacrifices made by those who love him. To do so, Staton is giving back to the profession that supported him and his family for many years.

Staton's story is an inspiring one that began with great uncertainty. After being rejected by multiple colleges when he was about to graduate from high school, he took a job collecting trash and cleaning dumpsters. For the young man, who saw his life upended at 8 when his mother left the family, he had a hard time dealing with the circumstances, which reflected in his grades. “I did so bad in school that no colleges took me at any level,” he told FOX5 Atlanta.

It was his fellow sanitation workers—many of whom were formerly incarcerated individuals—who encouraged him to acknowledge his great potential. “It was the first time in my life a group of people really just empowered me, uplifted me, told me I was intelligent,” Staton shared in 2020. “I believed in the hype, and I was ready to go to school.” And that's exactly what he did. He attended Bowie State University while working a full-time job in sanitation and then transferred to Maryland State University. His trajectory completely changed with the confidence instilled in him by his fellow laborers. His grades were finally strong enough to get him accepted to one of the top schools in the world—Harvard University. Staton shared the moment he got his acceptance letter from Harvard and that's when his story really made an impact.

Now, three years in, the soon-to-be graduate has co-created The Reciprocity Effect. This organization strives to offer visibility to janitors and support staff across many fields. “The Reciprocity Effect honors support staff affiliated with educational institutions and corporations and aids those affected by personal hardships and catastrophes,” states the organization's website. So far, Staton has raised $70,000 for these workers.

Aware of the lengths these staff members go, The Reciprocity Effect describes janitors and support staff as the “unsung heroes of educational institutions and corporations.” On top of the donations, the organization also holds awards ceremonies for exceptional workers. The first of these took place at Staton's alma mater, where 170 attendees—mostly students—showed up to cheer for Harvard Law School's support staff.

While some have criticized his efforts, stating that the staff is already being paid for their work, he explains how they do a lot more, which often goes unnoticed. “They act like our counselors. They’re like our surrogate parents. They go above and beyond.” To him, reciprocity is about making sure everybody wins, adding, “The support staff are happier. That would make us happier, and then that would give them a better work product. That would give us a better work product.”

To keep up to date with Staton's progress and what this bright young man has in store for the future, you can follow his organization, The Reciprocity Effect, on Instagram.

Three years ago, Rehan Staton made national headlines for his incredible transition from sanitation worker to Harvard Law student.

Now, he is about to earn his degree and the determined young man hasn't forgotten his humble beginnings. He is giving back to the profession that supported him and his family for many years.


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A post shared by Rehan Staton (@rehanstaton)

To do so, he co-created The Reciprocity Effect, an organization striving to offer visibility and resources to janitors and support staff. So far, the cause has raised $70,000.

Rehan Staton: Twitter | Facebook | Instagram
The Reciprocity Effect: Website | Instagram

All images via Rehan Staton.

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Regina Sienra

Regina Sienra is a Staff Writer at My Modern Met. Based in Mexico City, Mexico, she holds a bachelor’s degree in Communications with specialization in Journalism from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. She has 10+ years’ experience in Digital Media, writing for outlets in both English and Spanish. Her love for the creative arts—especially music and film—drives her forward every day.
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