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Ziegler-Kelly’s grades at SDSU suffered during his first semester, so he got a transfer from Taco Bell and went to stay at his mother’s house in Phoenix. After a few months, he re-turned, took up apartment living again, and was able to study better. He still had enough money to avoid going into debt. Eventually, however, student loans beckoned. He was get-ting anxious to graduate and decided to take full loads in his biology major. “At the start of my last two years, I took out $7000, and more later. Only about half of the $7000 was student loans. The other half was a Pell Grant. Somehow I was able to qualify for a bigger grant if I double-majored. So I added political science as a second major, something I also did at City College.

“Then came the fun part,” Ziegler-Kelly continued. “I was in my last semester when I broke my foot. We were bird-watching down at the dam in Mission Trails park. I jumped off a rock onto another and snapped the middle metatarsal bone. Snapped it in half. All of a sudden, I was finished at the McDonald’s near the university — where I was working by then — and couldn’t pay my share of the rent. Figuring that I’d been homeless before and could do it again, I found the spot under the bridge in Mission Valley. It’s next to the river near the Mission San Diego trolley stop, much closer to campus than my previous campsite.

“So at graduation, I limped a bit walking across the stage. But by then, the foot was healing well.” Now finished at SDSU, Ziegler-Kelly remained at the Mission Valley outpost for most of the summer. He went back to work at McDonald’s. One night, the police rousted him out of his tent. They said they were looking for a sexual predator in the area and were about to leave, satisfied that he was not their man. Still, they searched his backpack and found at the bottom, in a little box, a “ninja star,” or shuriken, used in feudal Japan as a small multipointed weapon that could be concealed in the hand until used for stabbing or throwing at enemies. Since California law views the shuriken as a deadly weapon, Ziegler-Kelly faced a felony weapons charge. He was taken to jail, where he spent three nights. “At least I had a roof over my head and three meals a day,” he says, “so I didn’t try to get out on bail. But I did call my mother, who then lived in Orange County, only to tell her I couldn’t use my cell phone and not to worry. But the phone system in jail seems to require a master’s de-gree, and I only had a bachelor’s. I was cut off right away, and the only message my mother received was that the call came from the San Diego County jail.”

To Ziegler-Kelly’s consternation, his mother arrived at the jail the next day. He was about to be released anyway, since a judge had dismissed the charge against him. But he had to explain the situation to his mother, who now discovered his homelessness. “She knew about the first time I was homeless and was okay with that because it was an experiment,” says Ziegler-Kelly. “But she was not okay with my being homeless only a short time after I graduated. She put me up in Hotel Circle for a few days at $80 a night and wouldn’t hear of me being homeless again. After a few days though, I convinced her to replace the $80 a night for the hotel with $20 a night for a campsite at Lake Jennings. I camped there for sev-eral weeks and then stayed with a few friends until I rented my own apartment.”

Ziegler-Kelly worked at McDonald’s until three months ago, when he got a new job driving for a taxi service. He tells me the job pays more money, much of which he plans to use for paying off his student loans. In the end, they came to $20,000, an amount he’s not happy with, but it’s less than half of what he knows some of his fellow SDSU graduates racked up. When the loans are paid, he plans a return to earn his teaching credential. His goal all along has been to become a high school biology teacher.

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rickeysays May 5, 2010 @ 4:45 p.m.

I'm glad he re-turned for his de-gree. He can be a he-ro for others, an example that if you be-lieve in yourself, anything is possible. You might even write for the Re-ader.


Visduh May 6, 2010 @ 9:26 p.m.

Lots of luck to him on getting a job teaching. The school districts are into their third year of declining budgets and teacher layoffs. I suppose some districts have hired a handful of teachers in areas they were short of talent during that period, but seniority rules the roost, and they have to juggle things to make them fit.

One thing missing from this story is any mention of Ziegler-Kelly's age. Is he 25? 35? 45? His comments about the lack of frugality on the part of many students sounds spot-on. They go into debt for life to earn a degree of dubious value as far as creating an income stream that can pay off the debt. Tales of recent law school grads being in debt more than $100,000 or even $150,000 abound. The old assumptions regarding the worth of a degree in future income are at least on hold for a few years. Many of these degrees are worth nothing in income prospects. After all his study, the subject of the story is working at at McDonald's? He could be doing that with no education at all. Illiterates can work there and prosper.


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