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A former sanitation worker just graduated from Harvard, but doesn't forget where he came from

Harvard Law student honors school's support staff
Former sanitation worker and Harvard Law student honors school's support staff 02:34

Cambridge, Massachusetts — No one has ever attended Harvard Law School for its sparkling glass doors or smudge-free countertops. In fact, support staff here say most students never even notice their efforts — with one remarkable exception.

One day, a student started thanking all of them.

"He says, 'I just want to give you a hug and, you know, say hi to you," pantry steward Bonnie Larkin told CBS News.

"'Thank you for what you do,'" dining service worker Maria Andino recalled the student saying.

"I'm like, what is this kid's angle?" skeptical food service cashier Brione Merchant said. "But once I heard his background, that's just when it all made sense. I'm like, 'Oh, you see us because you're one of us.'"

That student, Rehan Staton, graduated from Harvard Law Thursday. Before coming to Harvard Law, he worked in sanitation. 

"My job was to refurbish the dumpsters," Staton told CBS News.

Staton worked for Bates Trucking and Trash Removal in Maryland. 

"I've heard people literally point to me and point to my coworker and say, 'Don't be like them,'" Staton recalled. "I think it just reminds me to stay humble and just remember I wasn't always standing here."

Staton has not only maintained his humility, he has multiplied it. Earlier this year, he started a nonprofit called the Reciprocity Effect. Its mission is to guarantee that from now on, the support staff at Harvard Law will not only be seen, but celebrated.

The first-ever Harvard Law support staff awards banquet was held in April. In Academy Awards-like fashion, it honored the custodians, cafeteria workers, and everyone else who make this place possible.

"The feeling of knowing that you are appreciated will always go a long way, especially for those who don't know that," Staton said.

In the coming days, a lot of graduates will stand high on a stage, a great vantage point, to finally see all those who lifted them there.

"I think that's what makes what Rehan did so special, is because you didn't even realize how unseen you were, until you were seen," Merchant said. "And then, all of a sudden, you're like, 'Oh, this is kinda nice!'"

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