Wise. It’s not always a word that’s used to describe college kids, but on the Point Loma Nazarene University campus, it’s a symbol of a family legacy.
Dawson Wise is the youngest of four, the final sibling of those four to attend PLNU. Although he is the last of his siblings, McKensey, Harrison, Jackson and Dawson’s journeys to the university first began with a much younger Dawson and Google.
The elementary school version of Dawson Wise does a quick internet search for the best sports fields around, because why not? One catches his eye. It’s located at a place called Point Loma Nazarene University. His sister McKensey, the oldest of the four, was embroiled in her college search at the time. She wanted something large, public and non-Christian, all things PLNU is decidedly not.
But Dawson liked the picture of the field, so he suggested it anyway. Today, eight years later, McKensey is an alumna completing her third year as a resident director. Harrison graduated the same year Jackson was a freshman. Jackson, now a junior, welcomed Dawson as a freshman last fall. When McKensey chose a college all those years ago, she unknowingly began a family legacy.
“I can’t really explain why I wanted to come to PLNU,” McKensey says “But once I walked on campus, I had the sense that this is the place I wanted to be—and I’m so glad to have been here all these years!”
At college, the legacy that follows the Wises highlights their similarities, but each sibling is uniquely individual.
Dawson describes himself as fun and a little wild. He likes the beach and he loves people. His speaks loudly, waving to acquaintances as they pass by. Sitting outside on a sunny San Diego day, he wears black-and-white checkered vans on his feet, the silver hoop in his nose glinting in the light. His long, blonde curls have hints of brown, the only connecting attribute between him and Jackson.
A full-time surfer, Dawson hasn’t declared a major yet, but he’s considering Managerial and Organizational Communication, the same major McKensey and Harrison chose. It’s another small similarity in a sea of quirks that separates the four Wises.
Despite the unexpected legacy that landed on his shoulders, Dawson never felt any pressure. He never worried about getting lost in a tradition to uphold.
“For me, it’s just about being myself, and we all did that in our own ways,” he says.
When Jackson, third in the Wise succession, describes each of his siblings in detail, he never once talks about himself. He’s quieter than Dawson, tapping his bright red converse on the ground beneath him. Jackson sees a little of each sibling in one another, except for the blonde hair, a trait that skipped him. Their outgoing nature and quick smiles are easy identifiers of the Wise gang.
After coming to PLNU, Jackson again followed in his siblings’ footsteps when he was announced as the approaching school year’s ASB President. Both McKensey and Harrison held this position during their senior years of college. Again, where one would expect pressure, but Jackson says, “I didn’t feel pressured. There was a slight expectation within myself to follow in their footsteps, but not put on me.”
As he eats his lunch under a towering palm tree and an afternoon sun, he says the same stands for his decision to attend PLNU. Each of his siblings are so different that their choices were inevitably different as well. They simply ended up at the same final destination.
It isn’t about the legacy or the expectations. The Wises are just a family, one Jackson describes as tight-knit and constantly supportive.
A study done by Harvard University and College Board, “The Relationship Between Siblings’ College Choices: Evidence from one million SAT-taking families,” examines how siblings affect one another’s college decisions.
“The fact that younger siblings more strongly follow the choices of more similar older siblings seems difficult to attribute to unobserved inter-family differences” (Goodman et al. 83).
For Jackson and Dawson, it’s never been that complicated. Their differences are their strengths. Jackson admits he wanted Dawson at PLNU, but not for the legacy.
“I wanted to hang out with him,” he says.
The eldest, McKensey, is leaving her position as Resident Director at Klassen Hall, a PLNU freshman dorm, after three years. Jackson and Dawson don’t see her often due to her busy schedule, but she’s always there when they need her.
While Jackson waited for his first official meeting as the next ASB President, McKensey waited with him. Both her brothers describe her as the all-star child, but there isn’t any jealousy or competition. She led them here, something that brought them all closer together, something they are grateful for.
“It’s great to have people who understand life here and life at home,” McKensey says “I’m really thankful that we’ve gotten to be here at the same time.”
Harrison is on a work trip in China, so Jackson and Dawson haven’t talked to him recently. It’s tough, Dawson says, trying to get the whole family together at one time, but they make it happen.
Christmas is even difficult to get everyone in the same house. Dawson says, “This year we made it a mission to be all together for a week.”
McKensey and Harrison left big shoes to fill, but Dawson isn’t worried, and Jackson wears his red converse with confidence. Their shadow was never overwhelming, Jackson says.
“It bothered me a little bit, but I knew it would fade away. I was always Harrison’s brother, McKensey’s brother,” he says. “I think because I look up to them, it doesn’t bother me as much. They’re people I want to be like.”
Scott Shoemaker, Associate Vice President for Enrollment and Retention, says the Wises are one of many families who consistently attend the university. An alumnus himself, Shoemaker comes from a multigenerational family of PLNU students dating back to the 1930s. His parents met there. His wife’s parents met there. He is a third-generation PLNU employee, celebrating his 33rd year of employment at the university. All his children chose PLNU to continue their education. He says it was an easy decision for his three kids.
“It’s been really fun. They come around, not just when they need stuff, but certainly when they need stuff,” he says with a laugh. “This is a family school and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
In the admission process, family connections are acknowledged, but not valued over academic readiness, Shoemaker says. For the Wises, he says each was so different that they were never accepted as just another Wise kid.
When it comes to these distinctions, Dawson thinks hard, trying to describe his three friends since birth. He’s always felt akin to Harrison, a brother he describes as similarly adventurous. Jackson and McKensey seem alike to Dawson, their focused determination setting them apart. Despite the differences of each, Dawson is optimistic about being the final Wise at PLNU.
“Occasionally, it feels like I’m kind of in their shadow, but they set a pretty good example,” he says. “I don’t see myself going anywhere else anyway.”
The legacy that McKensey and Harrison left behind, the same legacy Jackson and Dawson continue, isn’t what most people might think. They aren’t here out of obligation or pressure; they’re just happy to be around each other, leaning into their similarities and exploring their differences.
In a few years, when Jackson and Dawson have graduated, the Wise legacy might carry on, or it might not. Regardless, the family will always stick together, long after the red converse and checkered vans walk across the commencement stage.