Edgar Pacheco: When life gives you a rough draft, you revise

“This is a rough draft. Plans can change at any time.”

When Edgar Pacheco Jr. says that, you get the sense he’s lived it. Born with tetra-amelia syndrome, the San Jacinto College sophomore has gone through life without arms or legs.

Despite this challenge, Pacheco is applying for Rice University’s political science program and eyeing a constitutional law career. At 19, he is also running in the Pearland ISD Board of Trustees election Nov. 3.

If anything in life, he has learned to adapt to reach his dreams.

Pessimists and problem solvers

San Jacinto College student Edgar Pacheco Jr. is running for the Pearland ISD Board of Trustees and aiming for a constitutional law career. (Photo courtesy of Edgar Pacheco)

When Pacheco’s mother was 16 weeks pregnant, an ultrasound revealed the baby was missing limbs. This can often mean other health issues, so doctors advised his parents to end the pregnancy. They refused.

What the doctors saw as chance Pacheco says was “God’s will for me.” His parents have taught him to embrace a “can” mentality.

“They have never said, ‘You can’t do this, or you can’t do that.’ They actually encourage me to step outside my comfort zone, not have any fear,” Pacheco said, adding, “Not that it’s easy.”

Although he relies on a family member, friend, or aide to steer his wheelchair and push elevator buttons, Pacheco manages many tasks himself, including using his computer.

With his chin, he moves the mouse and clicks. With a hard plastic straw gripped between his teeth, he types letter by letter -- faster than some friends. And with Dragon NaturallySpeaking software, he converts voice to text for essays.

“It shows me we all can adapt,” he said. “Change is good. Things aren’t always going to be the same, but we need to adapt to change in the best way possible.”

From culture shock to politics

Nothing tests a comfort zone like change, and Pacheco’s pre-college years were Change 101. He rotated among public school, homeschool, private school, and Montessori.

“It gives me a unique view -- all these different schooling methods,” Pacheco said.

In 2015, another big change happened: His family moved from Brownsville to Pearland. Coming from a bilingual community, Pacheco found Pearland a “culture shock.”

But Pearland also introduced him to politics. For Pacheco’s career transition plan, the high school special education director arranged an internship meeting with U.S. Rep. Pete Olson.

“I asked how he became a congressman, and NASA was a huge part of our conversation,” he said. “Then I gave my resume to his district staff.”

That summer, Pacheco landed the internship in Olson’s Sugar Land office. He answered phones, updated databases, assisted visitors, researched Brexit, and even attended an environmental subcommittee hearing with Olson.

“Never in my plan”

From eighth grade, Pacheco had two goals: (1) valedictorian and (2) Harvard or Yale. San Jacinto College was never in that plan. But he also didn’t plan a GPA setback or the need to stay near family longer. In fall 2019, he enrolled in a general studies program at the South Campus, planning to transfer after earning his basics.

Everything was a smooth process -- from admissions to accessibility services and classroom accommodations. In fact, Pacheco’s biggest challenge was traffic to and from classes.

“San Jac is the most stable part of my life right now -- no issues,” he said. “They have taken care of me.”

Dr. Bryan Corbin, English professor, says Pacheco offsets his limited mobility with intelligence and positivity.

“[He taught me] you can have a positive attitude no matter what happens to you in life,” Corbin said. “I think he has a bright future ahead. He has a great ability to inspire and lead and appreciate the here and now in ways no one else can.”

While helping Pacheco find his voice in class, distinguished speech professor Cristina Cardenas also learned from him the value of voice.

“Edgar confronts on a daily basis the good and bad just like all of us,” Cardenas said. “[He] reminds us that our voice transcends what we look like physically, and using our voice is so special because it exposes our true self, our most vulnerable self.”

Can-do candidate

Pacheco knows a thing or two about voice -- whether he’s belting out showtunes or speaking out on issues.

At a community event in November 2019, he told a Pearland ISD trustee he planned to run for school board. Having just graduated, he realized students needed someone to represent them from their perspective.

“I believe it’s not a position to sit there, go once a month,” he said. “I want to make sure students’ and teachers’ needs are being met and continue allowing students to dream -- give them the tools to reach their maximum potential and succeed.”

Right now, Pacheco alternates campaign days with classes. Besides attending meet and greets and urging people to vote, he campaigns door to door, a friend knocking while he talks.

If he wins the seat, how does he see himself juggling both school and school board?

“I schedule myself,” he said. “I wake up early, stick to a schedule, and practice time management. I would just continue the routine I’m doing now.”

No revision necessary

From typing without hands to getting raised eyebrows for school board aspirations, Pacheco confronts challenges daily.

“Most people were very skeptical,” he said. “I’m 19. I have physical disabilities. [But] my experience is my own unique experience. No one else on the board has had those experiences.”

Whatever the election results, Pacheco will pursue a bachelor’s in political science. After that, he plans to work in Washington, D.C., earn a law degree, and return to Texas to practice constitutional law.

It’s a rough draft, yes, but what doesn’t need revising is his positivity -- and faith.

“Life is difficult,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a kid or an adult. It’s going to depend on how you react to those challenges…. My faith is big to me. Find something to believe -- hold on to something.”