Backpacks

From Middle School to College: how one backpack became a key part of the journey.

Through all the wild changes between middle school and college, one thing stayed true throughout: my Lands' End backpack.

We all learn to tie our shoes early on and when we get that accomplished feeling of "Finally, I can do this," we go about the rest of our lives, never looking back. Why is it though, that with a backpack, you don't really understand how the mechanisms work right off the bat? Is it that you're growing constantly and can't quite figure out how long your back is? Probably not, but it's easier to assume that than to accept the fact that by the time you were in the 7th grade you properly learned how to adjust those padded shoulder straps. I felt like once I'd learned how well-made backpacks could be I found that good design would be practical and long lasting.

Middle School. Being practical in the wonder years.

There was a time in middle school when I looked at the backpack I'd had since elementary school in disgust, which by then, had all kinds of duct tape patches and the zippers were all worn out from the years of use I'd gotten out of it. That was when I decided to pipe up about a new backpack for school. By "pipe up" I mean I left Lands' End catalogs open to the Back to School section: the blue canvas bag circled in permanent marker and three exclamation points so it would stick out. If that didn't work I had an in-depth presentation prepared.

One brave moment at dinner I was ready for my elevator pitch in which I highlighted the importance of that blue backpack with a sternum strap so that my posture would go largely unaffected during my growth spurt. A solid argument. Dad said that if I ate all the vegetables on my plate he'd think about it. I snuck most of the broccoli below the table to our dog and ate the rest of the veggies like it was a performance, no problem.

And when that sweet new backpack arrived at the doorstep, I tore the package open and immediately switched all my supplies from the old beat up, boring one to this pristine, perfect Lands' End one. It was a feeling much like when we got our family dog. Sure, the backpack itself was large for me, but I knew that I'd grow into it. Plus, the monogrammed initials weren't going to change any time soon.

I could use it for school but on the weekends throw in a swimsuit or tennis racket and run over to my friend's house, and after all the fun repack it with all the school supplies that Sunday night. This backpack tagged along. It was there for the ride. It had a simple yet confident look, an appearance that I took everywhere with me. No, I didn't fully grasp what all the features were, but that's what made it better. Someday soon I'd be using that padded laptop place for a real laptop and not as a place to store all my videogames. Maybe I'd figure out how to organize my life according to all the stellar pockets there were inside. A good backpack has a working zipper. A great backpack has many working zippers and features you haven't quite taken advantage of just yet.

High School: So cool.

As I torpedoed into high school my one focus was in how cool everything could be. The practical aspect seemed to come in stride but there was a style associated with the way people carry their backpacks. Even in TV shows I looked at the way people held them and there was something about that that made them even cooler. Woah, look at how that character slings the bag over their shoulder and asks that girl out to prom. That's what it takes. Later I learned that was called "confidence" and I began that journey with how I carried my backpack between classes.

It carried textbooks, Valentine's Day notes, good grades, bad grades, more tennis gear, more textbooks, plenty of great books, my first paycheck, car keys, second place medals, a high school transcript, college applications, first place trophy, a couple of expensive prom tickets, my first laptop, rejections from college, and college acceptances too. Everything that happened in high school happened to end up in that backpack.

College: Keeping it smart.

Once college rolled around, I gathered up everything I thought I would need. The Lands' End backpack came along too and so I sewed some patches into it and gave it a personal touch. I slapped a few stickers on my water bottle and that too stayed safe in the side bottle pocket. It felt very much like I was trying to express myself so that I could make a bunch of new friends based on what bands I liked or what movies defined my perspective. Is it weird to give credit to my backpack for a blossoming social life away from home? Definitely, but with a companionship that led me from those uncertain middle school years to this vast sea of college excitement, I feel as though it's worthy of that credit. Plus, when you're trying to find your friend as they leave one of those huge introductory classes, the first thing you look for is their backpack.

Even now, I'm packing up the same blue canvas bag for a trip out to Europe. It has some scars from the patches I un-sewed, but somehow hasn't faded, somehow hasn't been stolen, and maybe the monogrammed initials will strike up a conversation between me and another person out there who's got a backpack full of great stories.

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