The Power of Connection (and Cookies)

Bennie Wang ’23 is one of several students enrolled remotely at EHS this semester because of the pandemic. In this month’s Spectrum Diversity Newsletter, he writes about attending classes from the other side of the world in Shenzhen, China, and the advisory moments he misses most.

It was the first week of September 2019, and I had just arrived on campus from China. Mr. deButts invited his seven advisees and a dozen former ones to his kitchen for “Milk & Cookies,” or “Cooks” for short. About 100 chocolate chip cookies on a big plastic tray exuded a pleasant aroma. Crowding around the table, we reached for the cookies. The moment my fingers touched them, I felt the warmth fresh out of the oven, and I suddenly got the feeling of home.

Mr. deButts has baked cookies twice a week for his current and former advisees for about 15 years. Everybody knows his cookies. In chemistry class, when talking about J.J. Thomson’s plum pudding model of the atom, Dr. Olsen renamed it the chocolate chip cookie model. I’m proud to be part of a famous tradition. 

Of course, being a tradition, it’s not like we just go there and eat cookies. We have decorum and jargon, which must be passed down to the freshmen advisees in September, things like the two-cookie rule, subterranean and axle cookies, and the sin of dine and dash.

Cooks soon became what we were craving. We huddled around the sacred table — helping ourselves, laughing, and chatting away. The soothing aroma and warmth of the cookies drained away our anxiety of the upcoming finals. A hundred cookies and two gallons of milk were usually gone in two minutes. “Impressive display of teenage boy food consumption!” Mr. deButts commented satisfyingly.

Then, Covid-19 happened.

All at once, we were separated without a proper goodbye. Unable to get flights back to China at first, I stayed with my roommate Winslow’s family. Cooks went online. Meanwhile, our hope of returning was crushed again and again.

Before leaving Winslow’s family, who had kindly sheltered me for over two months, I made Chinese dumplings for dinner. Winslow’s parents sent a video to Mr. deButts, suggesting that dumplings be made alongside chocolate chip cookies in the future. “Brilliant!” he replied, “The sound of deButts Dumplings makes me hungry!”

Summer came and went, and somehow things didn’t get better. Frankly, I had depressing moments: when I had acute ear pain on my odyssey-like journey involving three continents, five cities, and a 14-day quarantine; when the unpromising relationship between the U.S. and Chinese governments came up in conversations; and when I received no response from politicians after my appeal to suspend the travel restriction. Chinese students currently are still prohibited from entering the United States.

However, the thought of Cooks and all the relations I fostered at Episcopal continues to comfort me and empower me with courage, patience, and belief.

I eagerly await the day when we can be all back for Cooks again. And you know that’s happening when I’m running across campus to the deButts house at 10 o’clock in the evening.