At a Pasadena park, Ricardo Padron and his grandpa sit, observing.
Kids fly past, laughing and lunging for each other's arms in a game of tag. A jogger slows to a walk, mopping sweat with his sleeve. Ducks clump together under a cypress tree, necks tucked, asleep.
Years ago, Padron watched his grandpa sketch Looney Tunes cartoons. Now, seated side by side with pencils and sketchpads, the two draw together.
"With just a piece of paper and pencil, you can create art — you can do something exciting," Padron said.
His grandpa may have ignited his passion for art, but thanks to the Promise @ San Jac Scholarship, Padron is framing his future career path.
Choosing career over job
As the oldest of three, Padron wanted to help his mom and dad pay the bills any way he could. Should he study art or architecture? Both crossed his mind, but getting a job right after high school seemed safer than college loans and faster to help his family.
At Sam Rayburn High School, Padron's art teacher pushed him to compete in the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo School Art Program, where his art made the auction. His teacher's encouragement gave Padron the vision to teach art and guide others too.
"We have so much potential in this life," he said. "Anything is possible."
In his senior year, Padron learned about the last-dollar Promise @ San Jac Scholarship, which would let him attend San Jacinto College debt-free. With this, he could pursue his dream career, not just a job.
"My parents wouldn't have to spend as much money as they would have if Promise wasn't available," he said. "It gave me the opportunity to really think about my future."
Growing as an artist
Starting as a Promise Scholar in fall 2020, Padron pursued an Associate of Arts in teaching. Like his high school teacher, San Jac art professors pushed him outside his comfort zone — this time requiring him to judge his peers' art.
Padron found he could praise others' work while still suggesting changes in color or media to achieve the goal.
"It taught me valuable lessons," he said. "It's about pushing the other person to do better and keep practicing."
At San Jac, he also explored new techniques and matured as an artist.
"All my art classes were a fun, safe environment," he said. "With math, you follow certain rules to get the right answer. Art is a free environment to express yourself."
After graduating in summer 2022, Padron transferred to University of Houston-Clear Lake, where he is now earning a bachelor's degree to teach high school art. Once he gets classroom experience, he may pursue a master's degree to become a high school principal.
Taking the right steps
Padron is the first in his family to earn a degree. His mother ended at intermediate school, and his middle brother dropped out of college to pursue a job. Now closing in on his career goals, Padron tries to be an ear for his youngest brother, a high school senior still figuring out his path.
Padron quotes a Bible verse, Proverbs 13:20: "He who walks with the wise will be wise."
"For me, it means to drop what's foolish and make good decisions," he said. "If you make mistakes, make sure those mistakes help you become a better person."
His advice for current high schoolers mirrors what he shares with his youngest brother: Think first, act second.
"Think about what your next step will be and what you see yourself doing," he said. "If college is where you're going to be successful, take the Promise pledge."
About the Promise @ San Jac Scholarship
The Promise @ San Jac Scholarship promises a debt-free certificate or degree to all in-district high school seniors living in San Jac's taxing district. Learn more at sanjac.edu/promise.
Want to help make debt-free college possible for more students? Learn more about becoming a Promise Partner.