Euphoria- Or Telling Stories About High School

By Kian McHugh

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Palo Alto High School Senior Skip Day 2014

At least 7/10 of my most fucked up experiences played out during high school… I don’t know if this is true of everyone and whether it stems from where I grew up or if it has to do with the time I was enrolled but I’ll be damned.

Substance abuse, internet culture, sexting, sexual identity, death, intoxicating-love and a healthy dose of mental health problems are just a handful of the themes that fuel Euphoria’s narrative and can also be seen interwoven into my high school experience through various relationships, patterns, and one-off experiences. Watching the show brought back memories of a weirder time and the intense emotions that came with it. In feeling deeply connected to a wide array of lost souls throughout the viewing experience- I’ve found myself daydreaming of a brief stroll in certain characters’ shoes if only for a fleeting moment.

Halloween 2019 at The K’s Til Death Do Us Part / Photo by Chad Gledhill

This year I saw dozens of people dress up as Euphoria characters for Halloween. The hyper-introspective writer of the show, Sam Levinson, has divulged that each character’s identity and role represents a unique set of experiences and anxieties he felt during his youth. I cannot imagine what seeing people dressed up as metaphoric representations of your troubled mind would feel like. Admittedly, I think the wardrobe choices were likely motivated by aesthetic moreso than anything. Granted, the countless adaptations of Rue, Jules, Maddie, Lexie, Kat, Nate, Fezco, etc. affirms my premonition that I am not alone in feeling a deep connection to Euphoria’s characters and cast. So- the show has been extremely well received by viewers in my general demographic and prompted a wave of Halloweekend fashion because… it’s relatable? 

At 23, the experiences that I label as wild or crazy are the positive ones- steps forward prompting significant changes. The in-between-significant-moment-periods and occasional jarring events are written off as- “that’s just life” or “be patient.” In high school, there are no in-between-periods as each moment holds the promise of significance- a text can be riveting, loitering at the mall is thrilling, driving to a view with friends is ineffable, and breaking the rules feels downright euphoric. In high school, jarring events are not written off- they either become a visible part of your identity or they are stored in the dark corners of your mind to be kept secret and never to be addressed again.

(That is until Freshman year of college when fucked up high school stories are a form of social currency).

A San Francisco Parking Garage In 2014

After Freshman year of college, there are very few cases in which people want to listen to stories about your high school experiences. It’s interesting because, for whatever reason, they feel so damned good to tell. I’ve seen nostalgic storytelling light up my friend’s eyes as they recount a memory and feel a release from having swallowed twisted details and images that they hid from parents, friends, and maybe even themselves years ago. I used to imagine high school reunions to be a cathartic opportunity to indulge in nostalgia and perhaps get some things off your chest. I’ve shifted my perspective and now recognize that people don’t want to tell secrets to those who would have been affected, no matter how much time has passed. Even more notable- the risk of someone chiming in with a correction and tainting a memory ingrained in one’s soul as fact can be terrifying.

The K’s Vivian Laurence / Palo Alto 2014

No matter how defeated Euphoria’s characters become throughout the show, no matter how wildly inappropriate the experiences were for their age, and no matter if it was Levinson’s intentions- for fleeting moments, I find myself craving the opportunity to walk in each character’s shoes… to feel that intensely again, to be so sure of oneself (even if it means to be so sure of uncertainty), to be living wild and crazy- I mean that wild and crazy that cannot be mimicked in adulthood. Recalling what it once felt like does not bring me a joy that can compare to the experience itself.

Sam Levinson had the confidence to his bring memories and experiences to light, not only so people would listen to his story, but so people could look back upon their own and recognize that no matter how traumatizing it was- they too made it out. Euphoria is not a romanticization of a teenage wasteland and it is not party propaganda- it is a tough pill to swallow. Euphoria pushed me to self-reflect through the eyes of a beautiful transgender, nympho, free-spirited anomaly in the system trying to do things her own way and thus feel love for the character- Jules. Needless to say, I’m not transgender or a nymphomaniac- labels that feel so minuscule in the grand scheme of the viewing experience. There is SO much more to each character than their labels or the stereotypes they embody or the things that will come to define them as they graduate, beat their addictions- or not, succeed- or fail, and live until they eventually die.

Watching Euphoria’s high school narrative intently and without distraction is to relive your own high school experience again in a way that recounting our own memories or listening to others will never allow for. It is a reminder that you are SO much more than any label or stereotype you embody and whether you’re where you thought you’d be- at least you are somewhere.

Palo Alto High School Graduation 2014

Kathy Bowers, the Academic Advisor, who helped me make it to the finish line.

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