While most Yale students delve into internships and study abroad programs following the end of exam period next month, many seniors will be spending the final moments of their Bright College Years together on the sunny shores of South Carolina, at North Myrtle Beach.
For decades, graduating college seniors have flocked to Myrtle Beach in the hopes of creating as many college memories in four days as they created in the last four years. The destination is considered by many seniors as a necessary pit stop before they bid their college selves farewell for good. Characterized by excessive alcoholism, non-stop partying and general debauchery, Myrtle Beach brings graduating classes together to revel in all the wild youthfulness that made their college experience memorable. According to the Myrtle Beach Tours website, College Beach Week is a half-century’s old tradition in the coastal city, attracting students from colleges across the east coast.
For some seniors, though, Myrtle Beach feels like more of an obligation than a voluntary celebration. Three seniors interviewed said that while they do not know a lot about the place, they’re heading south to spend time with friends. A couple students acknowledged that there are probably better places to spend dead week — the period of time between finals and Commencement — but no other locale gathers as many fellow Yalies as Myrtle Beach does.
“The only reason I’m going to Myrtle is because everyone’s going to Myrtle,” said Gabriel Barcia Duran ’12. “It seems as though people will hate me if I don’t go to Myrtle.”
So what is the allure behind Myrtle Beach that pulls “everyone” toward it? It seems significant enough to warrant peer pressure, but is it worth visiting over other vacation destinations?
Several of the seniors interviewed said that there is something about Myrtle Beach that feels quintessentially Yale-like. They are going there, they said, in an attempt to maximize their Yale experience — it is their chance to create every memory that they didn’t have time for as sleep-deprived, success-driven Yale students.
“It seems like a ‘Yale thing’ to do pre-graduation,” said Lauren Motzkin ’12.
In last year’s Commencement Issue, Cristina Costantini ’11 wrote a WEEKEND view through the perspective of Christiane Amanpour reporting from the front shorelines of Myrtle. As Costantini described to the News, Myrtle Beach is a week-long frat party during which the “raging and fist pumping and ‘fuck yeah, college’ attitude” reigns supreme.
“I’m wearing a DKE Tang tank top and ‘We Love Yale Butts’ trucker cap which allows me to pass freely amongst the dazed civilians and drunken combatants,” wrote Costantini. “In all of my years of reporting, never have I seen such sustained hedonism on this scale.”
She continued to say that this state of general depravity soon grew tiring, as some seniors began to wonder at the purpose of Myrtle Beach beyond its function as a week-long party: “The Battle of Myrtle has been a harrowing experience for civilians in the region. The fried food and day drinking have clearly taken their toll and nasally complaints of ‘Alright, Myrtle actually kind of sucks,’ have set in with the weak and inexperienced.”
In July 2011, an article published on the Yale Alumni Magazine blog recounted similar memories of Myrtle and featured a photograph of three young men falling over one another while clutching watermelon chunks in their hands. The introductory paragraph of the piece reads: “Watermelon fights on the beach. Inflatable sharks in the hot tub. Drinks in the hot tub. Drinks at the Spanish Galleon. Drinks everywhere.”
The article also attempts to trace the tradition back to when “Dead Week [first] became Myrtle Week.” A letter from Klaus Jensen ’88 suggested that he and his suitemates started the custom after the beach was recommended to them by a friend attending the University of Virginia. Jensen recalled gathering a band of 20 other students to venture to the resort town with him where they stayed at the Rocking K Motel and partied at Crazy Zack’s night club. More than two decades later, these places still exist. But most Yalies forego Crazy Zack’s for the Spanish Galleon, which some think of as Toad’s with a Latin twist.
Although some seniors said that they go to Myrtle Beach to be in the company of other Yalies before graduation, others who are not partaking in the festivities contend that Myrtle isn’t necessary for a fulfilling dead week experience.
Vera Wuensche ’12, who will be spending the week after finals in Berlin with three of her close friends, said that she opted for an alternative send-off because the idea of a drunken beach vacation does not appeal to her.
“From what friends told me, it is basically a three or four day long pool party,” said Wuensche. “While I do enjoy partying, I want to spend dead week with the people that have become very dear to me instead of being drunk all day.” But she added, “If Berlin hadn’t been an option for my friends, we probably would have gone to Myrtle, and I am sure it would have been fun.”
Shelagh Mahbubani ’11 did not go to Myrtle her graduating year, choosing instead to stay with a friend who had to remain in New Haven for Glee Club rehearsal. Mahbubani said that she and a few of her friends relaxed on campus and also spent a few days in New York City. She didn’t feel that there was any stigma attached to staying behind and said that she was happy with her decision.
Another alumnus from the class of 2011 remarked that while he had a wonderful time during his stay at Myrtle, he also had a group of friends who went to Martha’s Vineyard instead and had a good time.
“You make dead week what you want it to be,” he said.
Myrtle Beach isn’t the only option for departing seniors, but it seems to have become the favored choice for the herd. The “Myrtle Beach phenomenon” has affected colleges across the country. Yale historian Gaddis Smith ’54 GRD ’61 recalled that while he was a member of the faculty at Duke University, “college students from all over” frequently gathered on the beach.
As Motzkin expressed, “It’s a tradition — a good way to hang out with your friends and do something as a senior class before graduation.”
Rather than a “final hurrah,” Myrtle can also serve as a transition between the stressful period of final exams and the traditional activities of senior week. Sarai Meyer ’11 said that in addition to going to the beach, she also spent a lot of time indoors relaxing, watching TV and cooking. After working under a rigorous academic curriculum, seniors find that Myrtle gives them a chance to relieve four years worth of stress.
In 2009, the beach was set aflame by wildfires that broke out mid-April. 2,500 residents were evacuated and 70 homes were destroyed, the News reported. But the regions of the coast frequented by tourists remained untouched, and seniors interviewed were undeterred even though Parks, Recreation & Tourism spokesperson Marion Edmonds warned that the fires could take weeks to be fully contained.
One graduating student was particularly adamant about his plans to go to Myrtle. “I plan on partying all day on the beach,” Peter Boisi ’09 told the News. “And if the beach is on fire I will move into the water — I’m pretty sure that can’t catch fire.”