Jharie Palacio: The lifestyle of a non-traditional student

By Farah Bassyouni Nov 18, 2022

On the Tau Kappa Epsilon 2021-22 composite hung up in the fraternity house’s front room, Jharie Palacio’s headshot is displayed just below the fraternity’s insignia. 

If you were to approach the front steps of TKE on any weekday at noon, you would probably see a gentleman with a big smile taking a smoke break on the front porch– arm stretched out, hand open and ready for a crisp hand shake. 

Palacio puts out his cigarette and heads back inside. His large white t-shirt drapes over his tall frame. He queues up a few tunes to play aloud from the pocket of his black sweats. Mop in hand, Palacio gingerly glides over the large red “TKE” on the gray-tiled floor at the entrance of the home. 

Palacio, a former Chicagoan, now claims Bloomington-Normal as his hometown. He’s a proud IWU Titan. 

He’s also in his late 30’s and is considered a non-traditional student. He works full-time as an IWU custodian while also majoring in Computer Science as a full-time student. 

Palacio was assigned to maintain the TKE House in Fall of 2021, and is seen every weekday all throughout the homes’ hallways and common rooms – cleaning, tidying and chatting with the rest of his honorary fraternal brothers. 

He sits on the front porch of TKE in the late afternoon, reflecting on the long day he’s had so far and what the rest of it holds.

 Palacio sighs. “After I’m done here, I’ve got to run over to the stadium, fix some things up over there, head to Dolan (Hall), and then I’ll finally head home.” 

He didn’t even mention his comp-sci homework, which he’ll have to do after a brutal eight hours of picking up after college kids and keeping IWU in pristine condition. He repeats this cycle every single day. 

Palacio is accompanied by a soundtrack all the time. The tracks of Erykah Badu, Wu-Tang and Mobb Deep fill the brick TKE corridors throughout the school day. If you ever need to find him in the house, stop and listen for a second and head towards the source of the rich RnB and rap throwbacks. 

Being tasked with maintaining a fraternity house is a daunting position for anyone. It was made easier since the brothers in the house grew fond of Palacio, and vice versa. 

“Look, I know being a custodian or janitor may not be seen as a “cool job” or anything, but know that we are people too. All we ask is that you treat our staff with respect and care,” IWU’s head custodian said at a meeting with TKE’s executive board this past August.

Little did he know, just a few nights prior, Palacio was at the house Friday afternoon shooting hoops in the backyard with some of the guys. 

After Palacio ripped a three pointer straight into the basket, he began to collect his belongings while the others continued to play.

“Aren’t you going to stay for one more game?” asked some of the guys in unison.

“Sorry fellas, big test Monday that I’ve got to get ready for,” Palacio said as he shook hands with the brothers on his way out. 

Palacio’s hard work and determination shows in just about every category. His Titan pride is rooted in the many organizations that he is a part of – Black Student Union, Salsa, Association for Computing Machinery and Men of Color, to name a few.

Palacio always does his best to be at every single event from every one of his clubs and involvements. 

He posts many of the memories he captures from his campus involvements to Instagram. From his 150 followers, only about 10-15 are his actual blood related family members. The rest? Friends from here at IWU. 

“I just want a better life man. I hate being a custodian. All my respect to everyone in this field, but it’s just not for me. I want more,” Palacio said. 

Palacio attained his custodial position coincidentally. Through a temp agency, Palacio was sent to Illinois State University and drove a little too far south. He had never even heard of Illinois Wesleyan before driving past it, and decided to check out their job opening for a custodian. 

“They asked me if I knew how to use a mop. A mop?! When I tell you I almost left back for Chicago right there and then man,” Palacio said. “A little later though, that same guy mentioned I could get my college paid for if I stuck it out for a year and continued working full-time. To this day I’m forever grateful for him.” 

Palacio has begun applying for jobs through Caterpillar and other software development companies. He gives thanks the guys in the house for being some of his first classmates and true friends. 

He gives thanks to the peers in his clubs and the coworkers he clocks in and out with. He says he never expected to meet this many people, let alone end up where he is now.

Jharie chuckles as he fist bumps and hugs his brothers. A genuine smile springs across his face as he begins reaching for his phone. Pointing straight ahead of him at the TKE composite, he snaps a picture of that same face smiling back at him. Beneath it reads: “Jharie Palacio” – Honorary Member. 

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