School uniforms and young Nick Kelly

I’m going to return to the earlier theme of this blog, the theme of why. Why Nick Kelly? Thats a fairly major existential question. I want to talk about about my background, and why I am the person I am today.

So we head to the year 1998. I’m a 5th former (Year 11) at Heretaunga College in Upper Hutt New Zealand. This is what I am up to:

Nick school uniformsAbove: Taken May 1998

I still admire 15 year old Nick Kelly. The world was trying to socially condition him, and he wasn’t putting up with it.

I had long hair, and when people mocked or told me to get a haircut I’d tell them where to get off. I questioned authority, and if it didn’t have a good answer I would give it hell.

At 15 I decided I was going to campaign against School Uniforms. I started a petition which in a few weeks over half the school had signed. Within a few months a number of parents had signed it. I built a website, got a couple of news paper reports and generally built a campaign. At 15 I was still new to running political campaigns. But I knew getting numbers mattered. And I got them. From this it gave the campaign a platform that the school authority had to respond to. The initial response was the principal telling the newspaper I should go to another school (nice). But when more parents and even some teachers signed, the Board of Trustees agreed to meet with me.

I remember at the time the arguments were that uniforms were cheaper. So I did a costing and found uniforms were double the price of equivalent clothing sold in town. Apparently it taught kids discipline – which teachers who’d taught at schools with no uniform thought was utter nonsense, so I quoted them. I was told this wasn’t an important campaign, “what about the starving children in Africa?” Hey great, you want to start a campaign about that go ahead, I’ll support you. But I’m running a campaign about this issue, if you don’t like this debate taking place thats your issue, don’t tell me I should do something else.

I also had an issue with the way gendered nature of uniforms. Girls forced to wear skirts, boys in trousers. At 15 I was fast becoming aware that society and in particular the school system tried to put people in boxes. Being made to dress a certain way because of your genitals is a prime example of this. I decided to turn up to school in a kilt one day, and another time in a skirt. The reaction this got from 1990s New Zealand teenagers wasn’t entirely open minded or progressive. School teachers had the good sense not to get involved. These actions inevitably led to questions about my sexuality and gender identity. Whereas the point I was trying to make was that clothing is just material. Society give these things social meaning, but we can chose not to view things in this way. At 15 I was yet to come across post modernist theories and idea of social construction, but was clearly exploring these ideas in my own way. Again, not all of my school mates were quite on the same page, but I had a car so kids still hung out with me.

My early campaign didn’t change the school uniform policy. Sadly a few year later the school scraped 7th form mufti, in a reactionary move in my view.

I still don’t support school uniforms. I no longer have long hair, but if I hear some old fart telling some kid to get a hair cut – I still think they should jump in a lake. 15 year old Nick Kelly was naive in some ways (I was only 15), but he fought for what he believed in. He also had learnt some valuable skills about running campaigns, which would serve him well in the future.

Last day 7th form

Above: Last day of 7th form (Year 13), our year might have gone a bit crazy 😉


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