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Island Profile: Nicholas Labrozzi, looking back and looking forward

Nicholas Labrozzi, a soon-to-graduate senior at Shelter Island High School, plans to become a teacher, so it’s fitting that he taught this writer a new word.

“I am an ambivert,” he said.

He was explaining how he drew on all parts of his personality to portray Agatha Trunchbull, in the now-canceled spring musical. “I played a really big, energetic, extroverted person, but most of the time I am chill and I definitely enjoy quiet.”

He grew up on the Island, son of Eleanor and Matthew Labrozzi, and brother of Julia, born three years before him. He has a large, local family on both sides, including his grandmother, Williette Piccozzi.

Next fall he heads for the other end of New York State to attend SUNY Potsdam, where he will study to teach English and theater arts.

Acting and teaching drama would not have been obvious activities for this ambivert, based on his behavior as a child. “I used to be very shy,” he said. “When I went to the IGA I would cower behind my parents. Since growing up here, I’ve gradually become more expressive. I’ve known these people all my life, so I gradually became more myself.”

In his first year at school, Nick remembers leaving a classroom to go to the bathroom. “When I came back, the class was not there and I started freaking out.” He found his way to Mr. Brigham, who helped him find his class, and established himself in Nick’s heart as a favorite teacher.

When Nick started eating lunch in the school’s cafeteria, he said it was comforting to know that one of the other kids was his older sister, Julia. Another support was his science teacher, Mr. Williams. “His style makes me want to pay attention, and he inspired me to want to be a teacher,” Nick said.

There are 22 people in this year’s senior class, but Nick says until he reached seventh or eighth grade, he didn’t really understand there was anything unusual about going to school with the same two dozen people for 12 years. “It is definitely a mix of positive and negative,” he said. “We were forced to be friends, like if you take two random people and put them in a room and force them to talk to each other.”

Now he’s grateful for the bond he has with his classmates. “When I was younger I felt trapped here. As I got older I realized that all of what I experienced has been with these people … I met them and they are going to be my friends for life no matter what.”

Nick has seen several superintendents come and go during his school years, and thinks some used their time here as just a stepping stone in their career. He was glad when Brian Doelger, whose ties here are deep, came back last fall, just in time to lead the school through a time of extreme challenges. “Thank the Lord. Someone we all know, who we all trust,” he said. “We know his goals, we know his mindset. Of course, he comes in when I’m leaving.”

Nick has been in Drama Club since seventh grade, and participated in “Annie Warbucks,” and “The Drowsy Chaperone” before auditioning for “Matilda” in December 2019. He still cringes remembering his first audition, when he was asked to sing “Happy Birthday” to a group of 12th graders. This year’s tryouts proved even more daunting when he realized that he and one of his best friends, Jennifer Lupo, were going for the same part; Agatha Trunchbull, an enormous woman of great strength and ruthlessness who leaves the children in her school miserable and downtrodden.

Nick is pretty sure that the fact he grew several inches between 11th and 12th grade helped him land the role, since producer/director John Kaasik said he wanted someone tall for the part. (Jennifer Lupo got another principal role.) “It was a friendly competition. I found out I got the part on Facebook — one of the best days of my life.”

Over the years, Nick has worked at the Shelter Island Historical Society, doing odd jobs and helping with the Farmers Market, and at the IGA as a cashier, a job he described as fun, but stressful, especially when customers were rude. “It taught me some things, brought me into the world of actually working.” he said. “Some people called me ma’am. That was rough.”

Nick expresses himself with a sense of humor that is a potent weapon. “I am the most uncourageous man ever,” he said. “I can’t even get my microwave mac and cheese out of the oven without being scared I’ll burn myself.”

Since ninth grade, Nick has contended with depression, an illness that forced him in 11th grade to step back from activities. “While I was in the Addams Family, I had to take some time off for me right during the play, for preserving myself,” he said.

His dream is that the Shelter Island School will have a theater class, and maybe even a drama department one day, and he could come back to teach and direct the musical, following in John Kaasik’s footsteps.

Although Nick has wished to live elsewhere, now that he’s faced with actually doing it, he’s ambivalent. “I’ve always felt stuck and trapped, but now that it’s my final year, I’m really making connections with people and with the Island.”

Lightning Round

What do you always have with you? My AirPods.

Favorite place on Shelter Island? My room.

Favorite place not on Shelter Island? Broadway.

What exasperates you? City people, or tourists.

When was the last time you were afraid? When there was a spider in my room. I threw a shoe at it.

What is the best day of the year on Shelter Island? Graduation Day.

Favorite book? ‘A Dog’s Purpose.’ When I read it, I cried five times.

Favorite food? Plain cheese pizza.

Favorite person, living or dead, who is not a member of the family? Billie Eilish.