For the previous two months, Stacey Sanders ’98 barely had been able to contain herself.

She’d been interested in Bryan Koplin ’99 since that night at Naples Pizza before spring break in 1996, and now, five years later, she knew he was about to ask her to marry him.

They’d looked at wedding rings, and she’d even talked about wedding locations. At the housewarming party Sept. 7, the friends who saw her with him said she was the happiest she’d been in months, years — maybe ever.

For Sanders, a literature major who loved dessert, Ben Affleck, John Irving’s “The World According to Garp,” and reading the New York Times in bed on Sundays, September 2001 should have been the beginning of everything.

Instead, four days, after that party, a hijacked 747 jetliner crashed into her office and a life’s upward trajectory was arrested well before its prime.

The Weston, Conn., native was applying to business school — with her high GMAT scores, Harvard was at the top of the list — and she’d just started a new job with investment management and consulting firm Marsh & McLennan. She just hoped she’d like it as much as her old job.

But 15 minutes after she arrived to work at 1 World Trade Center in New York City that day, the 25-year-old Davenport College graduate’s expectant future ended abruptly.

Like 294 of her Marsh & McLennan co-workers on the 93rd through 100th floors of 1 World Trade Center, Sanders’ life now lives on only in the minds of friends and family members.

Born March 22, 1976, to John and Martha Sanders, Stacey Sanders cut a prodigious academic career for herself at Greenwich Country Day School, then Phillips Academy and finally Yale. She moved to Manhattan immediately after college.

She was equally at home rowing crew outdoors or staying up late in her apartment with projects from her “all-time favorite” job at Organic, an Internet consulting firm, Koplin said in a phone interview from his New York apartment last weekend.

Captain of a nationally ranked women’s crew team at Andover, Sanders rowed at Yale her freshman year but soon found passion elsewhere.

Whether babysitting for her Italian professor or writing about crew and Valentine’s Day romance for the Yale Daily News, Sanders impressed people with her constant radiant smile, her grace and her trademark fashion sense.

“Stacey used to wear stuff that had just come out in magazines,” said longtime friend and three-year roommate Zibby Schwarzman, who now attends Harvard Business School. “If miniskirts were supposed to be in, she’d get the shortest miniskirt that day, and she’d wear it before you’d even read about it.”

Wherever she went — in whatever field she was pursuing — Sanders impressed acquaintances at first meetings, and continued to impress longtime friends on a daily basis.

Sanders’ freshman-year roommate, Tania Chozet, said Sanders, a Book and Snake society member her senior year, put her at ease immediately.

“We were from very different worlds,” Chozet said. “I was from a public high school in El Paso and I’d never been away from home for a long time before. I was nervous. When I met Stacey, I felt fine. She must have been nervous herself, but I didn’t notice a bit.”

The thing Chozet noticed most immediately, however, was Sanders’ close relationship with her sister and family.

“Stacey and I both had these immensely close relationships with our little sisters,” Chozet said. “Stacey’s family was bound so tightly together.”

Whether sharing her clothes with the other “Sanders girls” — mother Martha and younger sister Laura — or going out to dinner with her father in New Haven, Sanders always thought of family before all else.

“At 25, people usually don’t share clothes with their mothers and sisters,” said Koplin, laughing softly. “But whenever Stace was missing something, the first thing she did was call home.”

Despite her closeness to Sanders, Schwarzman, who spoke to more than 800 people at a Sept. 20 memorial service, was careful to characterize their friendship.

“I was her best friend,” Schwarzman said. “But then I realized she had so many best friends. She just knew so many people.”

During the service at New York’s Central Synagogue, Stacey’s “best friends” sat with people who had only known her casually — but all said Stacey’s life had touched them deeply.

“I’ve gotten calls and letters from people who only met her once,” Koplin said. “She was just that kind of person — no matter if you knew her well or only met her once, she moved you.”

For Koplin and Sanders, who knew each other perhaps best of all, this week was supposed to be the beginning of a vacation in Hawaii.

“We were both looking forward to it so much that we made reservations in July,” Koplin said. “For the last couple weeks, Stace would send me these e-mails at 2 a.m. All they’d have was the time until we left for vacation. ’21 days, 6 hours and 4 minutes till Hawaii.’ We were supposed to leave this week, but obviously we’re not anymore.”

A fund has been established in honor of Stacey Sanders. Make checks payable to: New York Community Funds, Inc. re: The Stacey Sanders Fund. Contributions should be sent to: N.Y. Community Funds, Inc., Attn: Gaye Young, 2 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10016.