TAYLOR: SWUG is an ethos

I knew in my heart that it would happen — that we, the class of 2013, were heading for something huge, something colossal and threatening. Not heading, even, but being thrown, mercilessly, tossed, buffeted by fate, captive on a wave hurtling towards, well — towards life. Real life. Life outside of college.

And I have watched, in this first month, as some have scampered, fighting, amphibian-like into the fray, and others — so many others — have beached themselves on the shores of the impending future.

Washed up, you might say.

Yes, we are washed up. Like a herd of whales suited only for the blithe and easy college lifestyle, we have slammed hard against the grating reefs of job applications, the pincers of standardized testing, the reeking detritus of graduate school. We flop, we roll, we cast wildly into the vast stretch, each of us caught in our own unique catastrophe.

This happens every year, of course. And among us, a word began to be whispered, then spoken, then screamed from atop a table well after the party had died at Sig Ep: SWUG, shorthand for senior washed-up girl.

“What’s in a name?” a young Italian once asked. He wasn’t very smart. A name is an identity, a title; a name can be defined, and its definition can bring meaning to the person who bears it. To call yourself a SWUG is to say “There are more of me; I am one of us; I am not alone.”

And yet there is, I think, a gap between the word SWUG and its definition, between SWUG qua SWUG and the “senior washed-up girl.” As she has been defined, the senior washed-up girl is only a type in this pageant play of a sloshy senior year: She’s the washed-up sorority princess, first in line for Wednesday night Toad’s, last to leave the frat party du jour, loudest of all the drunks at G-Heav.

But there are other players, players who just as vibrantly and importantly embody the essence of SWUG. There’s the washed-up hipster, lying on the floor of his off-campus apartment, an empty $5 bottle of wine in his hand and a bowl of chicken fried rice turned over into his lap. On Saturday night, you’ll find him at GPSCY, throwing himself at his bewildered Milton TA, who is unfortunately straight. Is he any less SWUG because he’s too grossed out by the floor to visit SAE?

There’s the SWUG-like nerd, who cracks open her first study beer at 9 p.m. and doesn’t stop drinking until five hours later when she has finished reading Hamlet. In the process, she has received three noise complaints, but she’s not done yet — she has another slurred soliloquy to scream. On a Wednesday night, you won’t find her at Toad’s — she has James Merrill on her Ouija board and a bottle of gin to empty. Is she any less SWUG for ordering her Wenzel in?

And there are more of them — SWUG actors and SWUG vegans, SWUG scientists and SWUG philanthropists, SWUGs who already have jobs and SWUGs who will graduate and move back in with their parents. There are even SWUG pre-meds, flasks and textbooks almost always in tow — until they get into med school.

For the SWUG is not a type but an ethos: It is the Dionysian response to the cruel brevity of our bright college years. The SWUG seeks oblivion in the face of despair, love in the face of alienation, whiskey in the face of moving back in with your parents who don’t have a liquor cabinet.

At a time when so many seniors are washed-up, like the beer bottles they’ve discarded, on the shores of certain (or, worse, uncertain) graduation, it should not be for a few of us to stand and sing their SWUG songs alone. At heart, we are all the same — made one by our shared joy and fear, our shared dreams and nightmares, our shared thirst and shared craving, urgent and clawing, for Wenzels.

SWUG is not a label, but a feeling; SWUG is not a person, but a community. We must stand, then, together, lifting each other up like flailing children in oversized fins; we must totter and dance on the shore and we must support ourselves until that imminent fall.

Or at least until Feb Club.

Michelle Taylor is a senior in Davenport College. Contact her at michelle.a.taylor@yale.edu.

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