School Uniforms: Underappreciated Until They’re Gone — Confessions from a Mercy Alumna

By Kristen Smith, '16

When my six years at Our Lady of Mercy School for Young Women were over, I felt ready for the transition to college—I knew how to write a great essay with a solid hook and a strong thesis statement, how to balance a heavy homework load with extracurriculars, and how to prepare and present projects (having survived the challenging Motto project). One thing Mercy didn’t prepare me for, however, was how much I would miss my school uniform.

I had attended Catholic schools since kindergarten. That’s 13 straight years of wearing polos, navy blue Lands’ End pants, plaid skirts, and my personal favorite, a blazer. So, arriving at college and having to pick out an outfit every day was a huge change for me. Gone were the days of rolling out of bed and slipping into my trusty school uniform while still half-asleep.

I was actually nostalgic about my school uniform—so in a recent college Communications class, I chose the question of whether ‘uniforms are good or bad’ as my argument for a persuasive speech assignment. Looking sharp in my navy OLM blazer (yes, I had my mom ship it to me), I stood confidently at the lectern that day and laid out my argument.

First, I argued that school uniforms eliminate competition over style and, in turn reduce peer pressure. I referenced a study done by a uniform manufacturer showing that 80% of teachers believe uniforms contribute to a happy school community and help students “fit in” with their peers. Next, I argued that uniforms keep students focused on their education and can improve attendance and reduce discipline issues. To back this claim, I called out a University of Houston study showing that elementary school girls’ language test scores increased by nearly three percentile points after uniforms were introduced and average absence rates for middle and high school girls decreased by seven percent. Finally, I shared my closing point, courtesy of a New York Times article: uniforms enhance school pride, unity, and community spirit—and are a strong predictor of academic success. With the attention shifted away from distracting outfits, students can concentrate entirely on academic excellence.

Met with a round of applause from the class, I felt confident that my arguments were clear, concise, and convincing, and was happy to find out a week later that I’d received an ‘A’ for my passionate speech.

So, there you have it. As much as I may have grumbled back in the day about uniforms, the truth is that they served—and continue to serve—a purpose: to foster a sense of community and a safe, secure, and productive learning environment.

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