Grinnell College Backpack Stories

The trusty backpack has been here to hold whatever we may or may not need during the day. To give more light to this sometimes underappreciated school essential, The S&B went around campus and asked people about their backpacks. Some bought it this summer to give the school year a fresh start. Others have gone through puberty, high school and college admissions with their current backpack, as well as heartbreak and illicit romances. The contents of the packs we encountered reflected the habits of the owners, ranging from multiple toothbrushes to personal silverware. Regardless of age, size or place of purchase, we found that backpacks continue to be a functional school staple.

Interviews by Nana Karayama, Features Editor
Photos by Minh Tran

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Tokens from Home
For some first-years, a backpack can hold mementos to help them adjust to their first time living away from home.

“I always have Indian money, for sentimental reasons,” said Mithila Iyer ’19. Her backpack, a present from her cousin who bought it because it was “a liberal arts backpack,” is an eye-catching pastel blue.

“[I] can use it to pick it out of a crowd. Like when everyone dumps their bag at the D-Hall, I can find it,” she said.

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When it’s quite not yours
“This is actually my girlfriend’s backpack,” said Duy Duong ’18 of his sturdy, dark gray Jansport.

“She always has two,” he added. “I didn’t have a backpack, and I [wasn’t] about to bike my way to Walmart to buy one. “

He got it at the beginning of this school year because he couldn’t find it among all the other stuff he stored over the summer.

“My old one was lost … I must have misplaced it somewhere before I went off into the summer,” he said.

But using your girlfriend’s backpack has its ramifications, sometimes in the form of hygiene products.

“She has her hand sanitizer [that’s] in a cute little owl case. I don’t know how but it blinks – some white light coming out of its eye. It’s like when I open my backpack at night it’s staring into my soul,” Duong said.

Duong also holds his own personal items, which include two drumsticks that show how he utilized Grinnell’s many opportunities.

“Have you ever gone to YouTube and saw something really cool and be like ‘I want to be like that’?” he said. “When I came here I thought ‘if I want to learn what I want to learn I can do it here. There’s a drum lesson right around the corner. So, I took it.”

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Perks of living off campus
Students have many ways to carry their day-to-day essentials, but Jackie Mukinisha ’16 can attest that sometimes a plain backpack serves you the best.

“The top of the strap of my old backpack broke, so I was using one of those big-ass shoulder bags, but it was getting too heavy for my one shoulder,” she said.
Her trustworthy backpack also came through an unexpected route.

“My roommate gave it to me,” she said. “It wasn’t his—it was left at our house. People leave stuff there when they’re moving out and they had this beautiful backpack.”

Mukinisha also had a unique backpack essential for the unpredictable November Iowa weather: sunglasses.

“When you think it’s not going to be sunny, and then all of a sudden it is, then you wear your sunglasses,” she said.

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The monochrome aesthetic
Some students, such as Chris Hellmann ’16, buy the exact same backpack once the one they’re using wears out.

“I guess I’m a fundamentally uncreative person. … No, I don’t know why,” he said.

The contents of his backpack show an uncommon note-taking habit.

“I don’t like using notebooks, so I usually carry around a ton of loose sheets of printer paper,” he said. “A lot of the stuff I write I don’t really keep—I don’t take notes in class. I never really read them after classes so I don’t really see the point in keeping them.”

Hellmann’s backpack, which he bought from “some department store,” is black, like everything else he was wearing.

“I guess I like black things and clothing. There’s probably some fundamental deep psychological reason. … No, I don’t know why.”