The bottle designed by Alyce Tzue ’10; message: " ... You are here for a reason. You just have to figure out what that reason is." (Courtesy The Bottle Project)

By Katy Pinke ’10

On Sept. 16, the night before the first day of classes this fall, Princeton freshmen set out with maps in hand in search of bottles. "The Bottle Project," a collaboration between the Student Design Agency (SDA) and the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students (ODUS), gave alumni the chance to impart words of wisdom to the Class of 2013 through 13 messages in bottles scattered around north campus.

Thirteen volunteers from the SDA each designed a message in a bottle over the summer, inspired by pieces of advice offered by Princeton alumni. On the eve of the bottle search, the designers placed their creations in favorite spots; some bottles hung from trees, others in hard-to-reach places like the center of the Woodrow Wilson School fountain.

The idea arose out of an ODUS initiative to find an effective means by which alumni could inspire and guide incoming freshmen as they start out at Princeton. Hoping to carry out this reach-across idea in a meaningful way, Dean Thomas Dunne came to the SDA before the end of the last school year. At first, Dunne and the student designers discussed the use of posters, a medium employed often by the agency in its work providing numerous student and administrative bodies with design services. But instead, the concept evolved into a more imaginative and interactive experience.


The bottle designed by Mayanne Chess ’12; message: "Go abroad! Do it!" (Courtesy The Bottle Project)

As Alyce Tzue ’10, an architecture major and outgoing manager of the SDA, explained, "We wanted to think of a way to leave an indelible mark. We used posters to advertise the event, but the event itself had to take a more distinct form. Each bottle was a sort of piece of art."

Tzue explained that the majority of students working for the SDA have a background in the arts, but the agency is more of a business, devoted to developing products for clients. "It was fun to do something that wasn't as much related to the business side of things, something more in the artistic realm that contributed to the community," Tzue said.

The project aimed to connect Princeton graduates, the student designers, and the incoming freshmen. To solicit advice from graduates, Dunne e-mailed the Class of 2009 and several older alumni with whom he maintains close contact. He asked what advice the would have given themselves when they were freshmen. More than 100 pieces of advice were submitted, and responses varied in both topic and tone. "People wrote back with such profound, thoughtful ideas," Tzue said.


The bottle designed by Yanran Chen ’12; message: "Celebrate alumni when they are on campus. They are more envious of you than you can imagine right now, but before you know it, you will be one of them." (Courtesy The Bottle Project)

The second step rested on the shoulders of designers -- current students ranging from sophomores to seniors. Many of them worked on their bottles while abroad, at internships, or taking courses. Through blogging, they documented their creative processes, their summer experiences, and their personal connections to the messages they were trying to capture.

In September, the third and final piece of the effort came into play: the freshmen. "The day of the event was planned to be the day before classes begin," Tzue said. "When the freshmen were feeling most apprehensive or bewildered, they could see the messages and be comforted, even encouraged."

Some of the bottles encouraged interaction. For example, students who found designer Caroline Chen ’11's bottle -- "Get over yourself and your grades. ... realize how much you have to learn ..." -- popped metaphorical "ego bubbles" (bubble wrap).

Tzue's bottle also doubled as a piece of art and an activity. Her message came from Kevin Cotter ’96: "Realize from Day 1 that you were not the mistake in the acceptance letters. You are here for a reason. You just have to figure out what that reason is." Ribbons hanging from the bottle formed of a kite tail, symbolizing a "desire to find their 'reason,' " Tzue said. By the end of the bottle hunt, all of the ribbons had been taken down by new students.