“Did you have to wear uniforms?”
Yes. And honestly, I miss them every day. Our uniform consisted of a wool-blend plaid skirt, and then various polo, sweaters, and sweatshirts, all of which had the school crest embroidered on it. We couldn’t wear flip-flops “for safety reasons” and any shirt worn under our polo had to be white.
Now, I’m not going to spout the regular, pro-uniform shtick about how the uniform is The Great Equalizer and makes students unaware of socio-economic differences among their peers. I recognize that the girl in my French class had an awesome new J. Crew jacket, and I saw that sophomore that clearly got some designer kicks for Christmas.
But really, the all-girls’ environment had more of an affect on my daily appearance (and how I thought about said appearance) than the actual uniform did. I rarely put on makeup, my hair was constantly in a messy bun (and, most often, was unwashed) and I shaved my legs on a bi-weekly basis, at most. My appearance simply didn’t matter. I wasn’t trying to impress the dude in my Geometry class; I was trying to pass Geometry. I wasn’t worried whether or not my ass was appealing to my boyfriend, I was trying to figure out my next article for the school magazine. I was focused more on my AP English paper and juggling my role as French Club President with my after-school job than I was worried about the state of my wardrobe.
But you know what? Other girls did care about their appearance, and that was okay, too. There were girls that matched their headbands to their accessories, that were hyper-conscious of what coat looked best with their navy sweater, and that was okay, too. They could totally kill it in Biology lab and look awesome at homecoming.
But neither of us were treated better or worse for our peers for it, because, in general, girls cared more about the jokes you made than your physical appearance. And that’s refreshing.
“Were the nuns horrible?”
At my school, there were only a couple nuns, and, honestly, they were fine. The nun that taught Theology in senior year was a really unique person from Boston. She had the accent, the attitude, and an intense appreciate for uniform rules.
But, when I think of my time in high school, I don’t think about the nuns. I think about all the other teachers, and what they taught me (and my peers) about what it meant to be a good person. The highest compliment received was when one teacher came up to me in the hallway, playfully punched me in the shoulder and said, “Remember, you are a decent human being.” He did this all the time. He constantly reminded his students that the best thing you could be is decent. And to be decent, you had to add value to the environment around you. You had to contribute. You had to enhance. You had to give everything you had to give. He constantly challenged students to learn more, to give more and to be more. And he lead by example. When I was in his AP English class, I would see him two to three times for every assignment: twice before the paper was due, and once after I received the grade back. This man would sit with me, going through my work and challenging me in every way possible. He was 100% dedicated to every student who wanted to be there, and who did the work. And he lived for his students.
When I got accepted to my first college choice, he was the person I wanted to tell. I ran into his classroom, and said “Guess what!” He looked up, a huge, knowing smile on his face, and said “You got in, didn’t you?!” He was, if at all possible, even more excited than I was.
And he was just one of the totally dedicated, totally awesome, totally inspiring teachers I had.
“All girls? So was it major drama, all the time?”
For the most part, no. I admit that in any school, there is always going to be some drama, but let’s be real: any time you have 600 people in one building, there is going to be drama. One year, one of my friends received a phone call from two other students; these girls thought it would a good idea to make a list of everything they disliked about my friend, and read it to her. To this day, this is the bitchiest, most horrible thing I can imagine doing to another person. And I hope those two girls are embarrassed that, even as high schoolers, thought that was okay.
But beyond that, the drama was pretty minimal. This was the best aspect of going to an all girls’ school: there really weren’t the typical “popular girls.” Sure, there were girls that fit the mold: they drank on the weekends, hooked up with the boys from the all-boys’ school across town, had big houses, and wore nice clothes. But that didn’t make them popular. That made them a group of friends. They weren’t any more or less than any other group of friends.
The girls that were popular (as in, they had a ton of friends and people actually liked them) were the smart girls. They were the ones in the Advanced Placement classes. The ones that killed it in the school musical. The hilarious girls that gave good speeches and made funny videos for school assemblies. The chick that made her own homecoming dress. They were the girls who wrote editorials in the school paper. These were the girls that you wanted to be friends with, wanted to like you.
And that, to me, is the best part of the all-girls’ experience. That people that worked hard, were passionate about their interests and excelled. They gained genuine popularity by being Bad Ass Chicks.
It’s hard to communicate in a few words what it means to attend an all-girls’ school. In my four years, I learned what it meant to be a human being, that doing what you’re passionate about can make all the difference, and that you are more than your exterior. As I continue to fumble my way in the adult world, I realize more and more that my high school experience set me up with a good idea of what it means to be a successful adult: to find what you’re passionate about, to work hard, and to be a decent human being to other people. That you can be considered worthwhile by your peers, even if your sweater is pilling and your shoes are from three seasons ago.
Most of all, the all girls’ environment gave me the confidence I needed to know that I could do whatever I wanted to in life, just so long as I worked for it. That if I was dedicated to something, things would work out. That I could be a total boss, because of (not in spite of) my position as a woman. So when I look at Mercy Academy’s advertising campaign, it reminds me of the best lesson my all-girls’ education gave me: a reminder that I can change the world.