Confession: I can’t quite commit to being part of the class of ’23.
I usually tell people I’m a super senior — class of ’22+1. This should tell you two things about me: I’m a pedant who cares about details that don’t matter to most people and first years frequently ask me for advice. Especially after they realize I’ve been at Yale since before they started high school.
I’m sure that they’re hoping for insight into my mistakes or reflections about the last five years — the kind of advice that feels trite when someone else tells you but that you end up rediscovering on your own years later. Or perhaps they want something more practical: Don’t wear strappy sandals on Cross Campus. If you must, at least watch your step to avoid completely face planting in front of everyone in a white dress on a Sunday afternoon. Don’t sweat it when you don’t make the debate team, you’ll find other hobbies. Do make an appointment at the YUAG to see art in the Duffy Study Room — it’s super cool. But my advice is simple: Don’t eat the cod.
In my first year, a friend and I were asked to bring an out-of-town guest to brunch on behalf of my campus Bible study group. I wanted to host her well and make sure she had a good experience on campus, but my brunch had other plans. In the middle of our conversation, I looked down and an inch-long translucent worm was wriggling its way into my leftover scrambled eggs.
Since I was representing my Christian group at the time, I did not scream bloody murder in the middle of the dining hall. I did not flip a table, sending the remainder of my meal all over our guest. Instead, I calmly took a video of the worm wriggling on my plate and then brought it to the person checking swipes by the door to which she responded, with a shudder, “Ugh — that’s disgusting. You should talk to someone in the kitchen about that.”
Eventually, after a couple of emails and days avoiding the dining hall, I received a message from a dining manager: “One of the unfortunate events when buying freshly caught fish is that there is the possibility of worms. They are harmless. Hopefully this will ease your mind.”
Instead, I posted the video on “Overheard at Yale,” launching myself into my 15 minutes of Yale fame. The News did an investigation into the incident, and a School of Medicine professor of pediatric infectious diseases, microbiology and public health said that the worm was actually a parasite that even “medication cannot kill.” I was anonymous when the news broke — I didn’t want the fact that I was the worm girl to be the only thing potential employers found when they googled me — and I spent the next week overhearing other people talk about me in scandalized tones without realizing I was sitting right there.
I’ve been telling this story since April 2019. Depending on the audience, the moral has been about the relative worminess of New England cod or the importance of campus journalism or how institutions are slow to change until they have something to lose. Yale did apparently change their cod sourcing after the parasite article went viral. But I’m not the only one to find questionable critters in my dining hall food — before or since. I can even joke about it now. But I still haven’t eaten cod again.
The stories we tell ourselves about our time at Yale are important. There’s so much pressure to curate the perfect Yale experience, to maximize your time, and to make sure that you’re setting yourself up for the future. We’re told that these are the best years of our lives. According to almost every wedding I’ve been to, this is where I was supposed to meet my lifelong BFFs. It’s easy to get bogged down with the crisis that’s in front of you or feel like you’re not doing everything you “should.”
But four — or five! — years is a long time to eat brunch, pretend you understand class readings, fantasize about the future, date terrible men and eat I-never-liked-him-anyway-but-I’m-sorry-that-happened ice cream with the suitemates you were randomly assigned to in your first year. The life change we’re hoping and waiting for actually happens in between the big decisions of what to major in or where to go after graduation. The memories we’ll carry with us beyond Yale will be when you stumble into a random class and discover you actually have a knack for filmmaking or West African dance or journalism — moment of silence for shopping period. When you give up an hour to help your friend move or laugh until your sides hurt after your English professor actually entertains your half baked idea that Emily Dickinson’s “Banish Air from Air” is about poop — it’s not.
When I tell people not to eat the cod, what I want to say is that Yale will not save you and the true magic here is us, making everyday choices to show up for each other. Sometimes, it’s as simple as agreeing to meet a stranger in a dining hall.
Serena Puang is a graduating senior in Davenport College. She previously edited the News’ investigations desk.