The 9Y4 bag at the Grand Canyon during a summer family road trip. © Chris Pittenger ’94

What do Grand Canyon National Park, a Venetian gondola, and a laundromat in Taiwan have in common? They’ve all served as backdrops for photos of the now-famous “9Y4 bag.” 

Earlier this year, the Yale Class of 1994 celebrated their 25th reunion by creating an inclusive and appreciative environment with their peers. Among the takeaways from the weekend was a durable canvas tote with 9Y4 printed in Yale blue. The spirit of reunion weekend lived on within the Class of ’94’s Facebook group as classmates shared images of summer activities and travel near and far, always with a 9Y4 tote bag in view. And the "Summer of the Bag" came to be. 

We’ve interviewed Elizabeth Terry ’94 and Emily Fox ’94, co-chairs of their 25th reunion committee, to find out what inspired them, what they’ve learned, and how a tote bag could connect classmates like never before.    

Photo by Mari Hinojosa - 9Y4 bag at Grand Canal in Venice, Italy
9Y4 bag in a gondola on the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy. Photo © Mari Hinojosa ’94. Mari shares, "The gondolier, while mystified by the project, was nonetheless a most enthusiastic participant. For me, the bag is a metaphor for my time at Yale. Our time there may have been fleeting, but we carry a part of it with us on life’s journey."

What were the souvenirs given to classmates at your 25th reunion in May and what inspired those choices?   

Elizabeth Terry: Classmates got two souvenirs: a tote bag and a mini journal. Emily and I were co-chairs on our 20th reunion as well, so we knew good swag was a priority for both of us. We also have very compatible taste. The journal was my idea. I was inspired by the gratitude journals assigned in the mega-popular Yale lecture class on the psychology of happiness. Emily suggested tote bag. Fortunately we could get both within our budget!

Emily Fox: I have a very impressive tote bag collection and wanted to add to it. The older you get, the more you tote, I guess? People LOVED the bag. It became the accessory du jour during reunion weekend. I thought the best thing about it, besides the logo, was that it zippered closed. You should never underestimate how important it is to keep your things from spilling all over the place.

What sparked the idea for the "Summer of the Bag"? 

9Y4 bag by the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco. © Kristin Bass.
9Y4 bag by the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco. Photo © Kristin Bass.

ET: During and immediately after the reunion, engagement on our Facebook page skyrocketed. People shared tons of photos, classmates who couldn't be there posted questions and requests, etc. Emily had told me she'd heard some people in the class of ’96 had been tagging their class Instagram account in photos of their souvenir bag after their 20th reunion, so we did a few ourselves to see if it would take off — but I never would have imagined so many classmates would participate. More than 300 bag photos were shared!

EF: It became like the Where’s Waldo of the Class of ’94. Some people shared photos of the bag in exotic locales all over the world, and some were just like, "Here is the bag in the back seat of my car in my driveway, full of laundry and empty candy wrappers." The juxtaposition of the extraordinary and the quotidian was really fun. 

"I live in the Bay Area, and was on a tour of San Francisco with my mom and aunt... The Summer of the Bag was great fun! I enjoyed following our classmates' big adventures and small routines through the lens of our fabulous reunion souvenir." 

Kristin Bass ’94
Photo by Jenny Turner '94, at the wedding of Chris Molanphy '93 and Liz Carlson '94
9Y4 bag at the wedding of Chris Molanphy '93 and Liz Carlson '94. Photo © Jenny Turner '94.

You’ve written before* on the idea of "basking in reflected glory" with your classmates. How does the traveling bag help keep the spirit of gratitude alive? [*Source:YDN] 

EF: I think it helps us remember the connection we all have to each other and to Yale, and every time you see it or use it yourself, you remember the special feeling we all had during reunion weekend, and the connection to our classmates is renewed. We spent reunion weekend celebrating our many similarities and shared experiences that we "carry around" with us in life. The bag became symbolic of that.

ET: I’ll also mention that Emily ordered a rubber stamp that says "bask in reflected glory" and she and our reunion clerks stamped every single journal with our motto!
 

How has #9Y4bag strengthened the connections between your classmates and between your class and the university?

ET: In two-plus decades our lives have diverged in various ways, but we all have that bond of having spent the early 90s together on campus. This bag photo series kind of fulfilled a half-baked idea I had while planning both the 20th and 25th reunions. I thought it would be cool to somehow see how everyone lives — their homes, their families, their activities — in some kind of photo essay or video. I never got it together, though. I love that through this bag we've gotten glimpses into so many lives, from the glamorous vacation spots to the everyday commutes and kids' routines. I think it helps foster that sense of connection in our busy, far-flung lives.

EF: It’s like our bags became friends, too. I love when my bag gets to hang out with another bag. It elevates the photo opportunity! 

What role did social media play in making the "Summer of the Bag" a reality? 

ET: For better or for worse, Emily and I are both social media people, and we used it a lot in the lead-up to the reunion. If we hadn't already had an active, engaged Facebook page, it wouldn't have taken off like that.

EF: Social media makes everything a reality! But ironically enough, one of our reunion planning themes was "IRL" or In Real Life, because we felt like we had developed all these deep friendships with people online, but rarely saw them in person. The reunion was all about being and celebrating our true selves and not just the carefully curated versions of ourselves we see and share online. 

9Y4 bag by a mammography machine. Photo © Lillian Kim Ivansco ’94
9Y4 bag by a mammography machine. Photo © Lillian Kim Ivansco ’94

Is there a particular submission that really stood out? 

ET: My favorite is the Yosemite one, which is now the cover photo on our Facebook page. I love that the folks in the photo managed to figure out they were in Yosemite at the same time and arranged that photo op. I love that our Yosemite ranger classmate Yenyen Chan is the very proud Y! It's also an excellent example of my favorite #9Y4bag subcategory: unofficial post-reunion mini-reunions, where people really did follow through on "we should do lunch" or "I'll call if I'm ever in town," and posted a photo to prove it!

EF: I liked the one on the gondola in Venice, and any photo featuring a dog or a baby, because I’m a sucker.

I’m a radiologist specializing in breast imaging. I wanted to encourage the Y94 women to get their screening mammograms in a nice, positive way that was neither preachy nor pink. Enter 9Y4 Bag! If just one of my classmates got a mammogram as a result, I will consider that a PSA win.

Lillian Kim Ivansco ’94

What advice would you give to other classes or YAA affiliates looking to embark on a similar campaign?

ET: It's hard to separate it from the overall reunion. Our weekend program included two nights of dancing, speakers who had everyone laughing and crying with their stories of life lessons, and weather that was unreasonably good. We have to share credit with class officers Greg Raskin and Selene Oh, who executed a major outreach strategy and twisted multiple arms, yielding a record-breaking turnout. And of course the Yale Reunions staff, and Yale catering, and the architecture you never realized how lucky you were to be around every day. So plan a great reunion, and people will feel attached to the souvenir! In all seriousness, planning a reunion is a big commitment, but it's also fun, especially when you have an awesome co-chair.

Photo by Bert Tzeng, taken in Taiwan
9Y4 bag in a laundromat in Taiwan. Photo © Bert Tzeng ’94. Tzeng shares, "My wife, Gena ’95, our twin girls, and I were in Taiwan for two weeks in August. It was hot and humid so we had to run to the laundromat a few times to freshen up our clothes. I thought it'd be a fun counterpoint to show the bag in a less glamorous but still vacation related setting!"

EF: Awwww. We do make a good team! You need a good, well-coordinated power duo or trio at the helm. Focusing on what we all had in common as classmates was really important, too. Elizabeth and I really shared a vision of what we wanted to celebrate at reunion. First, the notion of seeing people in real life and seeing their true selves, and then turning our attention to hearing stories from classmates that we might not otherwise hear — stories of personal heartbreak and triumph that were really intimate and honest and not necessarily about professional accomplishments or accolades. 

What adventures are on the horizon for your class and for your 30th reunion? 

ET: I hope to see photos of the #9Y4bag at the Game, on winter break, and so on. And I hope the alumni association is ready for record turnout at our 30th!

EF: I’m still recovering from the 25th, but the 30th is going to be epic. 

For more 9Y4 bag adventures:

View the gallery below or visit @yaleclassof94 on Instagram

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February 6, 2020

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