HUTTO, Texas (KXAN) — It was a choice he’ll have to live with the rest of his life, but Jonathan Flores hopes his decision to drink and drive four years ago doesn’t define the rest of it.
Flores, 24, graduates Friday from the welding program at Texas State Technical College campus in Hutto, four years after he crashed his car between Taylor and Manor. He was thrown from the car and broke his back.
“I’m paralyzed from my chest down, so it’s kind of hard to actually just move my hand or, like, hold myself up without propping myself up on something,” he said in the TSTC welding lab on Tuesday. “So it was kind of hard to actually figure everything out.”
Everything is a little different when you’re welding from a wheelchair. He had to learn not just how to do the work, but how to adapt it to his situation.
“He came in right away and just showed us that this is what he was here to do, this is what he wanted to do,” said Kristin Cockrum, one of his welding instructors.
“It’s something I always wanted to do,” Flores said. It’s a creative outlet for him, but the student didn’t think he’d be able to pursue an associate’s degree in the trade.
His parents brought him to the U.S. illegally when he was 7, so, he said, he wasn’t eligible for scholarships after he graduated from Taylor High School. That changed when he found out he was eligible for DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and he was able to start at TSTC.
Now he’s set to graduate from the program on Friday with better than a 4.0 grade point average. He’s not worried he’ll be able to do the job in the real world, but he has to get to that point.
“I worry more about, like, actually finding people who would actually give me an opportunity to show them that I can do it,” he said, “or, you know, to show what I can do.”
He didn’t have to worry long. Tuesday, his instructors invited the CEO of Dynamic Manufacturing Solutions, a local precision fabrication company, to meet with Flores.
“I hear he’s an ace student,” Robb Misso said. “He believes in himself and believes in his skills. He found a way to find an opportunity for himself.”
Misso heard Flores’ story from the school and drove out from Austin to shake his hand and offer to bring him in for a welding test. It’s difficult to find welders with the drive the student has, he said.
If all goes well, Flores’ future might start soon after graduation, and while he’ll bring his history with him, he has a chance to redefine what it means in his life.
“If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen,” he said. “I’ll make it work somehow.”