Laptop stickers, Stanley cups and campus perceptions

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My friend told me she almost got mauled over Stanley cups during Winter Break. She works at a Target in Auburn Hills. Apparently, the locals drink a lot of water on the go. Yet, Stanley cups, which are large and durable stainless-steel water bottles that come in an assortment of aesthetically-pleasing colors, are reusable, so there is no logical reason why demand for this product is so high. Cold Sealing Roll Film

Laptop stickers, Stanley cups and campus perceptions

Like many other products, the Stanley cup has evolved beyond its primary function, surpassing its use as a liquids container to become a sign of status. The gigantic water bottles serve as public declarations of health consciousness — a signal to other people who fit the “that-girl,” wellness aesthetic that the bottle owner (or, more accurately, lugger) is one of them. While unfortunate, it is neither new nor surprising that we tie our identities to our material purchases.

Students are especially susceptible to losing themselves in 40-ounce bottle investments. Sitting in lecture, giant pastel soldiers line the rows of desks housing what I’m sure is crisply-cold water. Ultimately, they are just water bottles, but I’d be remiss to say that I view them as such. 

Walking on campus and going to lectures, I see hundreds of nameless faces on the heads of people I don’t know, yet I find myself subconsciously evaluating their outfits and accessories. I pass them by and tell myself I now know who they are. The cut of their jeans, the logo on their winter coat, the style of their sneakers and now the brand of their water bottle categorizes these strangers in a split second. And then even worse, with a quick swivel of my eyes, I have decided how I feel about them. My superficiality is truly despicable, and at times humbling, as I’ve realized that my day-to-day attire would not even pass my own judgment

That said, the consumerist elements of identity seem to be exacerbated in college. As I study on campus, laptop and water bottle stickers catch my eye — personal items plastered with organizations, causes and brands hand selected to advertise the values of their owners.

As a freshman, I felt inadequate in this regard. Typing away at their keyboards, everyone seemed to know exactly who they were, what they liked and what they wanted. Not only that, but all their interests and involvements were an aesthetic curation, making it seem, to me, that all their extracurriculars were perfectly matched to their identity and that they earnestly loved what they did. I was impressed by other students’ abilities to define themselves so succinctly through their organizations and extracurriculars.

Public Health senior Izzy Simakas has a laptop adorned with earth-toned stickers. There’s a logo from the bookstore she visited with a friend, a sun, quite a few plants, a couple cats and a sticker for the Residential College. As I sift through these character clues and come up with my notion of who she is, she halts my mental evaluation by saying, “It’s kind of just like a random collection.” 

“I guess it maybe is about portraying a certain vibe, right? But I’m not sure if I necessarily seek out stickers with that in mind,” Simakas said as she pondered on the choice to adorn her laptop with these distinctive logos, brands and designs. “Two of the stickers are simply gifts from a friend.”

Simakas is aware of the presentation component — that there is a vibe to her curation — yet, ultimately, she chooses to decorate with stickers simply because they make her happy to look at. Clearly, I need to tone back my assumption making, but in a world where companies sell images as much as their products, that’s not so easy to do, and even harder to apply subconsciously.

Grappling with what to major in, I struggled to find a label that didn’t feel arbitrary. Sure, I could say I was majoring in computer science or biochemistry, but with only two semesters of college under my belt and three uncertain years left, it felt inauthentic to parade like I had it all figured it out. I saw my major like I saw chunky Filas in high school: I could be tempted to buy them in the moment, but I abstained because I knew I’d be aghast by them in a year.

I don’t limit myself to only activities that my future-self would endorse; that is a standard I save for clothing purchases. And I have activities I like to do — run outside, thrift and read — but nothing that I consider to define myself. “My people” are the people I like. The computer science stickers I’ve accumulated will never grace the back of my computer. Their showcase would feel like a lie — a misrepresentation of myself to the world. But what do my laptop and water bottle owe to the world?

As a freshman, I flirted with the idea of pursuing chemistry. But I couldn’t be sure it was for me until I took organic chemistry. There are, from what I can tell, two groups of students who decide to take organic chemistry: pre-med students who have to be there and chemistry enthusiasts who want to be there. Since I chose to take the course and generally enjoyed the content (excluding the physical manifestations of stress that would materialize the week before exams), I couldn’t commiserate with the former group. Yet I didn’t feel fully a part of the other group, either.

As I walked back to my dorm from class one day, a friend from lecture asked me what my favorite element was. I didn’t have an answer for him, and I still don’t have a particular affinity for any elements on the periodic table. But on that trek home from class, I learned he’s had his favorite element picked out since he was 5. This was incredibly worrying for me at the time, as I clearly lacked the intrinsic passion my classmates harbored for chemistry. I felt like I didn’t love it enough — certainly not enough to declare my undying passion with a laptop sticker.

However, stickers are not permanent, no matter how much I might cringe at the thought of the ugly scratched-off residue on the back of a laptop. My interests and activities can and will change, regardless of how soul-defining they feel in the moment. Furthermore, the most deliberate choices may be indiscernible to public perception.

As I was attempting to write one Sunday evening in the League, I couldn’t help but notice a student studying behind me. LSA junior Taylor Stacy was a vision in pink: pink headphones, two pink water bottles (one a Stanley), a pink laptop with pink stickers and a pink pen in her hand. Yet, this aesthetic choice has a deeper meaning than what meets the eye. 

After watching “Legally Blonde” during a particularly difficult time in her life, Stacy was inspired. 

“I was like I’m going to do it, I’m going to be the Elle Woods of medicine, and I am going to pull it together. And so it’s just kind of been my thing ever since,” Stacy said as she commented on the story behind her all-pink presence.

While pink is a requirement for her laptop stickers, Stacy has dedicated hours to finding stickers that “fit” on shopping sites like RedBubble. “It makes me happy to see it all nice and matching and pink, but I also do not want to put things on there that give people an image of me that is not totally true,” said Stacy. This means stickers repping political causes she truly stands for, the neurotransmitter dopamine, Dolly Parton, Trixie Mattel and, of course, cats.

I now view my college experience the way Simakas views her stickers; it is just an amalgamation of classes that I like more than others. I’ve learned to lessen the pressure of defining myself for others’ perception and have been actively trying to do things simply because I enjoy them, instead of worrying about if it is truly my thing or if my characteristics sort me into a specific activity — like writing! My water bottle (a recently purchased HydroFlask) may remain stickerless. But from all the bare Stanley cups I’ve seen on campus, I won’t be alone in this nakedness.

Statement Columnist Molly Goldwasser can be reached at

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Laptop stickers, Stanley cups and campus perceptions

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