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Beach Week, Brett Kavanaugh’s all-caps calendar entry, explained

It’s a DC-area high school tradition famed for drunken debauchery.

Brett Kavanaugh’s June 1982 calendar, as released on Wednesday, September 26.
Brett Kavanaugh’s June 1982 calendar, as released on Wednesday, September 26.
Brett Kavanaugh
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

Embattled Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh released his 1982 summer calendar on Wednesday morning, a document that he says may help exonerate him from Christine Blasey Ford’s charge that he sexually assaulted her at a party. (Kavanaugh has denied Ford’s charge, as well as two other allegations of misconduct from different women.)

There was an entry in the calendar, in big all-caps letters, that confused a lot of observers: “BEACH WEEK.”

To people who grew up in the DC metropolitan area — like me — the reference wasn’t confusing at all. Like Kavanaugh, I attended high school in the area; I was friends with a number of boys who went to Kavanaugh’s alma mater, Georgetown Prep. Around here, Beach Week was something everyone I knew was aware of.

The Beach Week concept is pretty simple. The week after school ends, DC-area high school kids rent houses in nearby beach areas — Ocean City in Maryland, Rehoboth in Delaware, maybe even North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Then the students, typically juniors and just-graduated seniors, party for a week. They drink a lot and just generally behave badly. That’s it — that’s the whole thing.

It’s certainly not surprising for a DC-area teenager like Kavanaugh to have gone to Beach Week. That said, the image of Kavanaugh at Beach Week complicates the story that he’s been trying to tell — that of a play-by-the-rules kind of guy who steered clear of the alcohol-soaked rowdiness his peers engaged in. “I was focused on academics and athletics, going to church every Sunday at Little Flower,” he said during a Fox News interview that aired on Tuesday night.

Shortly after he made his 1982 calendar public, Kavanaugh released his written testimony ahead of Thursday’s hearing in which he acknowledged: “I was not perfect in those days, just as I am not perfect today. I drank beer with my friends, usually on weekends. Sometimes I had too many. In retrospect, I said and did things in high school that make me cringe now.”

That statement seems more consistent with the image of Brett Kavanaugh, Georgetown Prep student who’s excited for Beach Week. It raises questions about just how honest he’s been with the public in his accounting of his past behavior.

What Beach Week is really like

To get a better sense of what Beach Week is like, I reached out to a few other people who grew in and around DC, of varying ages, and asked what they remembered about Beach Week. Typically, their recollections were somewhat hazy, perhaps because the most common themes were bad behavior and lots of alcohol.

“I remember a lot of our class going to the Goodwill down the street and getting awful-looking clothes like it was some kind of joke that they were clothes to be vomited in,” said one person who graduated from a DC-area high school in the mid-2000s.

“I do remember getting on the public buses that would take you up and down the boardwalk, and it was absolutely brimful of extremely wasted high school kids,” said another, who attended around the same time. “Everyone just called it the drunk bus.”

Some stories I heard were much darker. One attendee “hooked up with a different guy each night,” a third person recalled. “A friend’s sister was date-raped. ... My mom went to senior week in the ’70s and her friend died.”

None of this is all that surprising to people from the area. Aviva Goldfarb, a DC-area parenting writer, penned an entire piece in the Washington Post on how parents should think about the decision to let their teens attend Beach Week given the high rate of alcohol abuse.

“While it’s a wonderful and memorable time for many, with multitudes of teenagers in one place without much adult supervision, things are bound to go wrong, and often do,” Goldfarb writes. “I’ve heard stories of wild parties, arrests, hospitalizations and lost security deposits, so I wasn’t very excited about the prospect of either of my kids being part of this risky ritual.”

This isn’t exactly a surprising thing. Teens do this kind of thing all the time, everywhere, in every generation. Go somewhere where there are no parents, drink a lot, get into trouble, rinse and repeat. The only thing that makes Beach Week different is that there’s an ocean nearby — which isn’t actually all that unique, as people who went to high school in Southern California will happily tell you.

But not every teen, in the DC area or elsewhere, fits that mold. Goldfarb’s son, for example, chose to go camping with his buddies, opting for a campfire over a trash fire. I didn’t attend my senior Beach Week and instead spent the week with my then-girlfriend. One woman who skipped her late-’90s Beach Week told me that the idea of the event kind of freaked her out.

“There was always an air of debauchery and recklessness about the week that made me nervous,” she said. “I was not sad to miss it.”

What Beach Week tells us about Brett Kavanaugh

President Trump’s Supreme Court Justice Pick Brett Kavanaugh’s Nomination In Jeopardy Over Past Accusations
Brett Kavanaugh on September 26, 2018.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Judging by his calendar, teenage Brett Kavanaugh felt differently about Beach Week.

Kavanaugh clearly enjoyed high school. His yearbook contains a reference to participating in a quest called “100 Kegs or Bust” and being in the “Malibu Fan Club,” likely referring to the rum of the same name. People who knew him around the time of the alleged assaults have said he was a serious drinker and partier.

That is, of course, at odds with the image he has tried to project in the run-up to Thursday’s hearing. From his interview with Fox News:

When I was in high school — and I went to an all-boys Catholic high school, a Jesuit high school, where I was focused on academics and athletics, going to church every Sunday at Little Flower, working on my service projects, and friendship, friendship with my fellow classmates and friendship with girls from the local all-girls Catholic schools.

And yes, there were parties. And the drinking age was 18, and yes, the seniors were legal and had beer there. And yes, people might have had too many beers on occasion and people generally in high school — I think all of us have probably done things we look back on in high school and regret or cringe a bit, but that’s not what we’re talking about.

And here he is telling Fox anchor Martha MacCallum that he never blacked out while drinking:

MACCALLUM: Sir, you are going to be pressed on something that you just said about people do things in high school, and you were all drinking, were there times when perhaps you drank so much — was there ever a time that you drank so much that you couldn’t remember what happened the night before?

KAVANAUGH: No, that never happened.

MACCALLUM: You never said to anyone, “I don’t remember anything about last night.”

KAVANAUGH: No, that did not happen.

Now, Kavanaugh’s written testimony released on Wednesday does give a fuller picture of his teenage years and suggests that he has been less-than-forthcoming about who he was back in high school.

Of course, Kavanaugh’s attendance at Beach Week is not disqualifying. Nor is the fact that he drank a lot in high school and college. People are allowed to grow up.

But as we learn more about Kavanaugh’s behavior in high school and college, the more the manicured image of the choir boy who was “focused on academics and athletics, going to church every Sunday” falls apart. And it’s only fair to wonder what else will come out as we dig deeper into the Supreme Court nominee’s past.

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