The drive from Larchmont, New York to Greencastle, Indiana is almost 14 hours. Sigma Alpha Epsilon brother Jack Kneisley drives while his mom sits shotgun, filling the time listening to a 25-hour playlist of every song they’ve ever liked on shuffle. His mind wanders to the rush of the wind and the spray of saltwater while sailing in Long Island near his hometown. He’s already homesick for the ocean breeze.
Jack has always been drawn to a challenge, and moving across the country to attend school at DePauw University attests to that. At DePauw, he’s a two-sport athlete. He plays football and lacrosse, leaving him with little free time outside of schoolwork and required workouts. This is his first semester living in his fraternity house, and he participates in the school’s co-ed, acapella group, DePauwCapella. Despite the home he has built for himself at DePauw, the countless hours studying, and the packed athletic schedules, Jack still finds a need to return to the water.
In March of 2019, Jack was denied admission into the prestigious United States Naval Academy, postponing his dream of joining the Navy. In April, he found himself on a visit at DePauw, one of the few schools which supported the possibility of playing two sports. While the chance to continue lacrosse and football on a collegiate level brought him to Indiana, the feeling he got during his visit was what sealed the deal. “Sports got me interested, and they’re the reason why I came, but the reason why I stayed was the community aspect, the way I felt at home here,” says Jack.
And now here he is, a sophomore living on campus in the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house, in the midst of a global pandemic. In his single room hangs a blue and white flag from a boat he had once taken to sailing nationals, gifted by a friend. On his desk rests a framed photograph of him and some of his best friends clad in windbreakers and life vests, posing at the frontend of a sailboat on the choppy, grey water. He picks up the picture and smiles. “That’s one of my favorite photos that I have in my entire life – Me, my brother, and my friends after winning a junior regatta in 2018.” Sure enough, the picture shows Jack with his curly brown hair and a broad smile, holding up the number one with his index finger.
Surrounding himself with happy memories and sailing memorabilia helps him when he feels homesick. The distance from his family was harder on him last year as a freshman, but he feels better adjusted this time around. Jack believes that his parents prepared him for the long distance by encouraging his independence in high school years. He grew up staying out late adventuring with friends, traveling to different countries, and embarking on sailing trips. “I was conditioned to be ok with the distance,” he says.
“My brother is my biggest fan and biggest motivator,” says Will Kneisley, Jack’s younger brother. Will agrees that their parents were big on letting them make their own choices and gain a sense of independence, but he adds that their support went beyond that. Will believes that their mother and father made sure that the boys learned from every mistake they made, no matter how big or small.
“He’s been my best friend for basically my whole life, so it’s always hard not to have him home,” says Will. Although he often feels homesick for Jack, he knows that his older brother is never that far way. Jack and Will contact each other daily through Snapchat and Instagram.
Jack is able to keep in touch with family and friends while attending school in Indiana, but what he’s left longing for is the water. He misses the way the sun sets on the ocean, falling asleep in a boat with the rocking waves, waking up to the open sea, and getting his friends together for a quick sail when the weather is nice.
“I was getting recruited by other colleges for sailing, but I wasn’t very interested,” Jack says. “Sailing is the thing I use to decompress, the thing I use to broaden my horizons and relax. While I’m still super competitive at it, it’s one of those things where I know I will always have fun. I don’t have to go super hard and train 24/7. It’s therapeutic for me.” He sees it as a passion, an outlet. He doesn’t want to spoil the value it adds to his life by making it a job.
To know Jack is to know a multifaceted young man with many identities. He fits in with his sports friends, his acapella friends, and his sorority and fraternity friends. Last year, he was the only freshman on the Winter Term trip to Greece, not knowing anyone on the plane ride out of Indianapolis yet returning with a group he considers lifelong friends.
Jack is simultaneously a self-proclaimed “people person” and a “lone wolf.” He believes it is important to enjoy alone time as much as time spent with company. “I try to find solace in silence and just being alone with my thoughts, figuring things out by myself, and understanding where I’m at,” Jack says. He thinks that the ability to be alone and happy is a useful life skill, and he tries to cultivate that as much as he can. “Sometimes I think, ‘Hey, I really wish I had somebody to be with right now.’ But then I realize that I don’t really need anyone else to be with because I have myself, I have my own mind, and I can make a good time out of anything.”
DePauw has challenged Jack and pulled him in directions that he did not originally expect. When he first moved to campus, he was not interested in Greek recruitment. He grew up hearing about fraternities and the bad reputation they were given in the media and was unsure if the lifestyle was something to which he wanted his name tied. Ultimately, he decided to go through the process, which led him to Sigma Alpha Epsilon.
He was drawn to the fraternity because of the upperclassmen.
While Jack chose the fraternity because of the value it could add to his life, his SAE brothers see him in the same light. “Jack is a reliable, straight-laced, and admirable guy. He works hard and is incredibly well-rounded, and I believe these traits are contagious,” says Alex Hlade, president of SAE. Jack has already taken on leadership roles in his fraternity as the Inter Fraternal Council Delegate and “Eminent Chronicler,” which handles advertising for the organization.
After DePauw, Jack’s dream is to attend Officer Candidate School. He wants to become an officer in the Navy and eventually serve as a Navy Seal. After coming out of the military, he plans to go to grad school and then become a high school teacher and coach sports. “My ideal life path is helping people, serving, and protecting the ideals I think are right and the people that have made me into the person I am today.”
Jack is happy to be back on campus but feels a tinge of regret for not staying home this semester. He made the 14-hour drive back to school this fall, thinking that semester would be filled with sports practices and extracurriculars. Had he known that football and lacrosse practices wouldn’t start until October, he would have chosen to stay in New York, take classes online, and continue working part time as a sailing instructor at Norton Yacht Club in Connecticut.
When asked to describe sailing in a way that truly captures his passion to someone who’s never experienced it before, a smile spreads across his face and his blue eyes shine a little brighter. He answered, “Imagine going on an adventure where you need to rely on yourself. There’s a sense of feeling so small and at the will of mother nature, but so fully in control of your destiny and your own actions. It’s a really cool, interesting feeling.”