Shelter Island graduation 2016: Salutatorian, Kelly Colligan


Kelly Colligan knows that there’s no place like home.

When her family relocated to the Island, she was set to begin third grade and remembers being “very, very upset” about leaving Westchester County behind: her house, her friends, her cats.

“I was a summer kid,” she said during a recent interview, remembering her earliest memories of Shelter Island. “But I didn’t want to leave the familiarity behind. And I didn’t know what I’d do with myself in the winter.”

She remembers this period of her life being marked by uncertainty; her family was impacted directly by the 2008 recession. Her father, Michael, lost his job as a medical insurance consultant in the crash and started working from home while her mother, Lynne, began teaching English on the Island.

“I learned to love the minimalistic lifestyle here on Shelter Island and to appreciate the value of money. So many people know this story,” she said, empathizing with the millions of others impacted by the Great Recession.

Kelly went on to talk about her family, adding that her dad is back to work in Sag Harbor and joking that “I’m a lot like [my mom.] She’s a doer.”

Her parents’ hard work and love have instilled a drive in her to never lose sight of her own goals, and a beyond-her-years wisdom that shows in everything she does.

Kelly is a young woman who sets expectations for herself and constantly exceeds them. In part, she feels she owes some of that success not only to her family, but the community that raised her.

“Who knows if I would have been the salutatorian at some huge high school somewhere else?” she wonders aloud, referencing the unique opportunities being a student on Shelter Island offered.

Aside from her academic achievements, her extracurricular activities range from sports to working on every annual drama production since sixth grade.

“If you wanted to try something, you could,” she said, without fear of not making the team or the cast list.
She found her passion for volleyball early on, inspired by her sister, Erin, who played on the team.

“We’re opposites,” Kelly said of her sister, who will be a junior this year at SUNY New Paltz. “I looked up to her for everything I wasn’t.”

When she was in the eighth grade, Kelly was moved up to the junior varsity volleyball team along with friends Margaret Michalak and Kenna McCarthy. She went on to play JV and varsity volleyball all four years, along with softball. Kelly also played for various volleyball clubs, most notably as a part of the Long Island Fury volleyball team during her sophomore and junior year.

When it came time for her senior year, she was faced with a tough decision. It came down to the volleyball league, requiring multiple practices a week and weekend tournaments, or the annual spring musical.

“I love volleyball, but I knew I wasn’t going to pursue it as a career,” she said on the decision. With that in mind and a bit of convincing from her closest friends, Kelly decided to audition for her senior production of “The Drowsy Chaperone.” In a gender swapped role of the narrator, “Man in chair,” Kelly remembers rehearsing for the play.

“It was the first year I had more than two lines,” she said, laughing.

Ironically, her nerves were nowhere to be found when the lights came up on opening night.

“There was this great energy and I just focused on the adrenaline,” she said. Kelly, true to her work ethic, strived to match her flawless opening night delivery and went on to be nominated for a 2016 Teeny Award for her performance.

Though she doesn’t plan on pursuing an acting career, she is thrilled by the arts, both live theater and film. It’s one of the things that drew her to Tulane University in New Orleans. She hasn’t picked a major yet but is interested in film marketing and looking to her future with bright optimism at all the opportunities Tulane has in store for her.

During a visit there this past January, she witnessed pre-Mardi Gras chaos and was charmed by the architecture, French influence, all of the colors and diversity of the city. What’s she most looking forward to about NOLA?

“The food! And the jazz,” she said, explaining her love of the genre.

Some of her favorites include the iconic Lauryn Hill and two late greats: B.B. King and Amy Winehouse. There will surely be no shortage of either, though she may have to stick to beignets and be wary of gumbo due to a shellfish allergy.

“It’ll be a lot different than Shelter Island,” she admitted, joking that she’ll have to get used to locking her doors at night.

Aside from the usual college freshman nerves, she’s excited. “Nervous-excited,” she clarified. New Orleans is far from home, but she compares it to her brief study abroad stint in Cádiz, Spain last summer.

“I wasn’t homesick once,” she said, recalling the hospitality of her host mom, Mari Carmen. Despite somewhat of a language barrier, Mari took Kelly and two fellow travelers/girlfriends in as though they were her own children, cooking them tortilla de patatas for dinner and dressing them in traditional flamenco gowns.

She would love to travel abroad again one day, but until then, she looks to New Orleans with hope and is more focused on enjoying this summer on the Island. She’s ready for the future, and will take lessons learned here at home with her to NOLA.

“If Shelter Island has taught me anything, it is to be confident and not let someone with a Céline handbag make you feel any less than you truly are,” said Kelly. “It is rugged confidence and humility that are invaluable.”