Michael Payano will graduate from Shelter Island High School in a few weeks, and plans to attend SUNY New Paltz in the fall, the first in his family to attend college.
When his clan gathers at the Southold Legion to recognize his achievements, it should be a great party. With one side of the family first-generation immigrants from the Dominican Republic, and the other potato and hay farmers with deep roots on the East End, it will be a bilingual, multicultural celebration.
His parents, Carlos Payano and Aimee Mejia knew each other in the Dominican Republic where they grew up, and when they met again after coming to New York separately in the late 1990s, they married and had Mike in 2001, and his younger brother Brandon two years later.
They moved to Shelter Island and Carlos began working for the town. Now, Carlos is a captain with North Ferry.
Mike’s parents split up eight years ago, his father remarried, and he now lives with his father, his step-mother Kristin Steele, two half-brothers, Carter, 3, and Jordyn, 1, as well as Mike’s grandmother, Carmen. His uncle Manny (Jose) also lives on Shelter Island, and is a deck-hand with North Ferry.
When Mike was about 8-years-old, he was waiting for his dad to come out of the hardware store when he decided to take the car out of park, and it rolled into a van parked downhill. Mike demonstrated remarkable composure for a 2nd grader who had just damaged two cars. “I just waited until my dad got back,” he said. “That’s all I did.”
But he kept a connection — when he was old enough, he worked at the hardware store for three years. This summer he’ll work with North Ferry.
At the Shelter Island School, Mike discovered an aptitude for math. He owes special thanks to his teacher Mr. Brigham for helping him, he said. “He’s always been there for me,” Mike added. “He has a nice sense of humor, and he knows many things.”
Mike collects basketball sneakers and his interest goes beyond the sartorial to the scholarly. He said of his personal collection: “Anyone who plays basketball and is really into sneakers probably has as many as I do. But I don’t play basketball.”
Last year he attended “Sneaker Con,” an international conference held in New York for people who buy and sell collectible basketball sneakers. He also wrote his senior thesis on sneakers and their influence on history through fashion and sports.
Participating in the school musical, “The Addams Family,” was a great experience that he recommends to everyone. “I was one of the tall people in the group. That’s why I was cast as Lurch,” he said. “It’s a great way to interact with others outside of your class and find out about the theater business.”
He is one of the beneficiaries of the rebirth of the Shelter Island School running program. Coaches Toby Green and Bryan Gallagher started the program in time for Mike to participate throughout his high school years.
In last year’s Invitational Tournament, Mike ran with Joshua Green, Jonas Kinsey, and Kal Lewis to break the school’s record in the 4-by-400-meter relay, a record dating back to 1994, with a time of 3:45.03. On May 11, Mike placed first in the East End Classic open 800-meter run, with a personal record of 2:14.32.
He was one of just 110 students in Suffolk County awarded a Suffolk Zone Award in December of 2018 for excellence in academic, leadership and physical performance.
Having lived on Shelter Island all his life, he has opinions about the place, making the point that affordable housing is important, but so is affordable lunch. “We need more reasonably priced places to eat, enough to satisfy everyone’s tastes,” he said, adding that he thinks the best are Maria’s Kitchen and the Pharmacy.
Mike plans to major in accounting at SUNY New Paltz, and thinks he might go on to get an MBA. “I’d like to work with numbers,” he said. “If I ever had the money to come back to Shelter Island I would come back.
Mike has traveled on the East Coast, to the Dominican Republic and with a Shelter Island School trip to Spain, experiences that helped him value this place.
“The people are different here,” he said. “We know each other, we have a better understanding of what everyone is dealing with. We know what we can do to help each other.”
What do you always have with you? The $2 bill I got from my grandmother.
Favorite place on Shelter Island? Maria’s Kitchen.
Favorite place not on Shelter Island? Flight Club [a consignment store for sneakers].
When was the last time you were elated? My first time at Sneaker Con.
What exasperates you? I hate people who put themselves above others in a way that makes other people feel less than they are.
What is the best day of the year on Shelter Island? Late August, when everything is dying down, and the weather isn’t too crazy.
Favorite movie or book? ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’
Favorite food? Fried calamari.
Favorite person, living or dead, who is not a member of the family? J. Cole. I love his music.