Almost two years ago I moved from South Carolina to Panama City, Florida. I had no idea, when I moved, that I was taking up residence next to Panama City Beach, the spring break destination of choice for tens of thousands of college students each year.
I’ve noticed that Spring Breakers can fall into a few personas:
The Human Etch-A-Sketch
In Panama City Beach, there are tattoo parlors on every corner. This is because when groups of college students pile into a car and embark on a red-bull-fueled road trip, the topic of what tattoo they’d get inevitably comes up. At 3:00 a.m., after crossing the border into Florida, someone grabs a napkin and sketches a barbed wire circling a dolphin jumping over a moon and everyone agrees that this, stamped on their shoulders, is the perfect way to commemorate this epic week.
The decision to permanently alter your body is one that you should make while well rested and confident of the time of your last tetanus booster, not at 3:00 a.m. and under the pressure of friends — two of whom you just met because gas money divided six ways was better than four. Take the sketch, fold it up and put it in your journal. If you still love the image in a year, there’ll have been no harm from waiting. And updating your tetanus shot.
I thought that this was something movies made up. Then I toured local resorts while scouting out possible retreat locations and saw signs, everywhere, asking guests to not drop anything from the balcony — including themselves. Apparently some spring breakers feel the only way to truly express their enthusiasm for being at the beach instead of their dorm room is to hurl sofas — or themselves — over the balcony.
The space you occupy on spring break is owned and inhabited by business owners who have invested a lot in rooms and furniture that they are hoping will make it through a whole season of spring breakers like you. When you’re tempted to use the hotel microwave to warm up your gym socks, do chin-ups on the shower rod or surf with your mattress, remember that this space is not your own. Your fellow spring breakers, housekeeping staff AND damage deposit will thank you.
I’m only slightly exaggerating. There’s something about the beach that makes people wear as little clothing as possible. Dear Spring Breakers, please don’t forget your fig leaves. Blessed John Paul II stated that “the problem with pornography is not that it shows too much of the person, but that it shows far too little.” I think the same can be said for many of the outfits I see on the beach. String bikinis, teeny tops and mini skirts don’t show the world you as a person, but emphasize your sexuality and invite attention to only one dimension of who you are as a person. Obviously, you don’t need to walk the beach in a hoodie (although if it’s March and cold, you probably should), but when you choose your outfits, choose styles that invite respect. For some classy beachwear options that say, “I’m here to have fun AND I’m not afraid of a wave leaving me naked” check out Rey Swimwear at www.reyswimwear.com (while you’re at it, check out designer Jessica Rey’s speech on YouTube, “The Evolution of the Swimsuit” for a history of fascinating perspective on the history of swimwear).
And I’m not talking about orange juice. The most heartbreaking part of living in a spring break destination is hearing about the bad decisions that happen when teens are under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Last year’s news held stories of drunk driving, alcohol-fueled violence, and even death. It was depressing and seemed so senseless. When it comes to this, “what happens on spring break stays on spring break” couldn’t be further from the truth. The decision to abuse alcohol and drugs aren’t just harmful to you and those around you — the consequences can follow you long after your flip-flop tan fades.
The sun, the sand, the magic of being away from campus. It’s such a great time to fall in love with that friend that’s been there all along that you didn’t see romantic potential with until you were both talking on the porch, after everyone else went to bed, and you found out that you never realized that you both love soup!
Sometimes these trips can be a time for friendship to blossom into romance. However, it can also be a time that we force things. Much like the whirlwind dates on “The Bachelor,” it can be easy to feel a connection with someone when it’s all fun and games, and stand-up-paddleboarding. Plus, a boyfriend or girlfriend can seem like a necessary accessory for a truly successful spring break. However, our friends aren’t meant to be used — pray for prudence and resolve to approach spring break romances with caution and concern for everyone involved.
Prayer. Mass. The Sacrament of Penance. Fortunately, the Church offers us strength to stay holy and have fun. St. John Bosco is famous for giving the youth in his care the advice, “run, jump, play but do not sin.” Your Catholic faith actually offers you answers for how you should spend your spring break. Have fun and, with the help of your faith, make memories that you can be happy to reflect on for years to come.