The Sweetness of Kenyon Friendships

"Peirce desserts wrap friends around the table, keeping them there long after the plates have been cleared."

Date

If you ask a college student the best place to have a private phone call, “dorm stairwell” is sure to be among the answers. While a stairwell may not be the coziest spot on campus, I found out early on that Norton’s thick brick walls provide good insulation for both heat and family conversations. One night, as August bled into September, I sat atop the scratchy, non-slip stairs. I teared up on the phone with my dad, recounting how difficult it was for me to sustain the surface level conversations and get-to-know you games that permeate college orientation. I yearned for our seven o'clock family dinners back home in Atlanta. Before I left for a much colder place, the four of us sat around our creaky wooden table (balanced only by a small tissue stuck underneath the left leg, but greatly loved and refurbished by my grandfather.) At that table, we laughed obnoxiously one minute and sat in warm silence the next. Over the phone, my dad consoled me. Soon enough, he said, the sweetness of true friendship would overpower the sourness of leaving our comfortable dinner table. He was right. In Peirce, my friends soon became my family.

Situated in the left back hand corner of the servery, squarely in between the steaming selection of soups and the empty pizza bar, is the dessert station. I find college dining halls to be reminiscent of airport security: the lines seem like they will never end and, once you finally reach the front, you feel the stares urging you to move faster. Despite its popularity, the Peirce dessert station breeds a calm and peaceful atmosphere. Perhaps this can be attributed to the intoxicating smell of recently settled caramel or the cocoa powder subtly sprinkled on the ground. Either way, the dessert section pulls students into a different dimension. There, English papers and statistical problem sets evaporate like steam off a cookie. As students give a short glance to the cascading display, they drag their feet to the back of the line. The ooey gooey cake, miso brownie, and red velvet bundt cake – accompanied by the dreaded realization that you will never be able to eat them all – are more than quick bites which satisfy the palate before bed. Peirce desserts wrap friends around the table, keeping them there long after their plates have been cleared. 

Each night at six-thirty, I catch the double wooden doors to Peirce, carefully dodge the shimmering seal, and begin to defrost from my chilly walk there. Slowly shedding my winter gear, I scan New Side for familiar faces or, more likely, familiar belongings which mark our territory: Georgia’s slightly dented pink Hydro Flask, Margot’s army green puffer jacket draped atop a chair, and Fiona’s flowery lanyard sprawled across the table. Tossing our things down, we skip off to see what is offered in the servery that night. Once seated with plates overflowing, we begin our nightly ritual—telling stories saved in anticipation, asking for silly pieces of advice, and recounting our childhoods. Likely, without our sweet tooths, we’d be quick to wrap up and head back to the First-Year Quad, but our dinners have been longer and our friendships stronger due to the Peirce desserts we have all come to love. 

"The dessert section pulls students into a different dimension. There, English papers and statistical problem sets evaporate like steam off a cookie."

Emilie Hankla '26

Georgia was the first of my friends to make a habit out of Peirce desserts. Each evening, she pranced over to the display, stacking onto her rectangular plate whatever made her eyes bulge and her mouth water. (Georgia begins her meal with dessert because, as she so aptly puts it, “in college, there are no rules.”) Although her personal quest to find the best Peirce dessert came to a swift end when she bit into her first ooey gooey cake, Georgia inspired the rest of us to find our own go-to sweet treat. Mesmerized by each subtle flavor and delicate texture, the six of us steadily memorized the rotating menu. We sent poor Georgia back to the dessert station many times, lugging at least six treats stacked atop one another. Even Old Bob, a staple of the dessert station, recognized the cultivation of our sweet friendship around the dinner table. Writing each of our names on a slip of paper small enough to fit comfortably in his front pocket, Old Bob made it known that someone on campus remembered our names, cared for us, and loved us. In this way, my friend group’s infatuation with sweets has not only brought us together, but has allowed us to dismantle the barrier between students and staff. To us, Peirce is much more than a dining experience: it is an exemplification of Kenyon as a place where people gather to learn from one another and to love one another. 

Fiona and I met in an embarrassingly Generation Z-like way, on TikTok. When scrolling on the app after my Early Decision acceptance, I stopped short, thinking I had caught a glimpse of a purple K and Y. Sure enough, I was watching a tearful acceptance video to my very own class of 2026. Realizing the girl in the video was also an Atlanta native, I sent her an eager message. Even before arriving in Gambier, Fiona and I were inseparable. Like vanilla soft serve, her favorite Peirce dessert, Fiona is my old reliable. 

The brown sugar cookies are not to be confused with the molasses cookies, the soft ginger snap cookies, or the snickerdoodle cookies. Those sweet treats all have their respective rankings on Margot’s list, but only the brown sugar cookies have the muted sweetness and home cooked warmth which earn them the number one spot. Splitting the brown sugar cookies in half requires little strength. Rather than crackling apart, their doughy middle melts into the lucky devourer’s hand. As my friends and I often remark, Margot sees the good in all things. Like her favorite dessert, Margot’s all soft on the inside. 

Sitting next to Renee in Harcourt Parish’s wooden pews, I feel her eager gaze each time a member of the congregation presents a new charitable opportunity. Gambier’s dry, crisp breeze weaves through the arched doors of the church propped open on rickety hinges, and it becomes hard not to imagine how much colder one might be without the coat and hand-knitted beanie I am wearing. Renee consistently transforms what could be fleeting empathetic thoughts into sincere actions. She has led our friend group to sponsor a child’s Christmas through Harcourt’s Giving Tree and offer our time to the Food for the Hungry drive. Whether in distributing even slices of her favorite red velvet bundt cake or in offering help to a variety of organizations, Renee makes a point of adding sweetness to a stranger’s day.

Reading the dessert descriptions, my eyes halted on the placard which reads: miso brownie. I chose the safe option, the iconic Kenyon purple sugar cookie. But Jaya, undeterred by the new-to-her dessert, soon urged my friends and me to give it a try. It was not long until she had created an unwavering fan base for the sweet and salty treat. Similarly, prior to meeting Jaya, I knew embarrassingly little about music and about music production much less. Now, Jaya’s soothing voice, accompanied by Georgia’s smooth piano work, has become the soundtrack to my freshman year. As with the miso brownie, she introduces new things to those who surround her. Back in Atlanta for Christmas, with Jaya hundreds of miles away, I play her Spotify single “Be There” and pretend I’m back in the basement of Rosse Hall, following Jaya’s lead. 

I sat on Norton’s speckled stairs in August, grumbling that I would never feel the same ease around the Peirce dinner table as I did in my hometown. Now, in December, I hold back tears at Columbus Airport, Gate C55. Sitting cross legged with my back leaning against the chilled airport windows, I scroll through my camera roll admiring the beautiful, fleeting snippets I caught of first semester. I remember Renee's impressive memorization of the nightly menu, Fiona surprising Margot with a bowl of brown sugar cookies, and Georgia wrapping her ooey gooey cake in a scratchy napkin, mimicking a to-go box. I remember our last dinner together before we climbed onto our respective airport shuttles, wishing that we never had to say goodbye. Hugging Georgia, Fiona, Margot, Renee, and Jaya, my plea that they come back to Gambier quickly came out like an urgent whisper. I know, though, that in January we’ll gather around New Side again, savoring our favorite Peirce desserts, and recounting our holiday tales.