BY AMANDA SOTELO
HARLINGEN — Texas State Technical College has given Auto Collision Technology student Refugio Cazares a second chance after losing his freedom and nearly his life several years ago.
Cazares, a Harlingen native, will receive a certificate II in Auto Collision, making him one of nearly 400 students who will receive a certificate or associate degree tonight at TSTC’s Summer 2017 commencement ceremonies.
“I never thought I’d be where I am today,” he said. “It feels good knowing that I’m working my way to being a better person for myself, for my family and for my 4-year-old daughter.”
It was 2004 when Cazares left TSTC and moved to Missouri to work in a cotton farm, then in a steel mill where he was quickly being promoted. But alcohol ruined his chances of a future there.
“I was, in a way, having my own pity party,” he said. “My life was spiraling down fast and drinking was my escape. I was out of control.”
Slowly his family created a distance. He broke his back in a car accident and was bedridden for three months and after numerous DWIs and losing his driver’s license he ended up in prison for two years.
“Being in prison opened up my eyes and made me realize I needed to change my life,” Cazares said.
He credits God and his mother for the lifestyle change he has undergone. And although each day has its own struggle, he is proud of the person he is becoming.
“I take one day at a time,” he said. “There are still people that look down on me for my past, but I don’t let that negativity get to me. I have a goal and I won’t throw away my future.”
Cazares hopes to someday work in the auto collision industry, an interest he picked up from the men in his family. He wants to either work at an auto collision center, be an auto collision instructor or even build his own business.
“God willing I will find what I’m looking for out in industry,” he said.
“Ultimately, my goal is to find a place where I can use my skills and also be a leader and role model for others.”
For now, Cazares is searching for a part-time job where he can practice what he has learned, but still have time for school because he will be returning to TSTC in the fall to pursue an associate degree in his field.
TSTC Auto Collision Instructor Jose Vasquez said he commends Cazares for taking the initiative of returning to college and pursuing a certification and degree despite the challenges he has faced.
“Refugio is an outstanding student. He has As and Bs and always willing to lend a helping hand,” said Vasquez. “Everyone deserves a second chance and he is working hard to better himself. I know he has all the potential he needs to be successful in the industry.”
Overall, Cazares said his experience at TSTC has been amazing and has opened new doors of opportunities for him.
“I’m leaving my past in the past and looking toward the future, and TSTC will get me to where I want to be,” he said.
TSTC’s Commencement Ceremonies are tonight at Harlingen Municipal Auditorium at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.
For more information on Auto Collision Technology or to apply at TSTC visit tstc.edu.