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Network, network, network: Maya Palacio wears clothes from her line, Made by Maya. Ms Palacio enters her final year in university working flat out but with a clear eye on her goals (Photograph by Indigo Palacio)

Maya Palacio didn’t have the cash, but refused to let that get in the way of her education.

For years, she worked around the clock for her tuition, eventually sacrificing her beloved field hockey, time with family and friends, and sleep. Her final year at University of King’s College should be easier; last week she received one of the Bank of Bermuda Foundation’s $20,000 Chairman’s Awards for Scholastic Achievement.

“I knew it wouldn’t be easy to pay for university with a single parent and two older siblings, but I was determined. “I refused to use any excuses to hold me back from what I wanted to do. And with a lot of hard work, encouragement and others believing in my goals — seeing my focus and drive — I am making it a reality.

“The award is a huge achievement for me and I am humbled and grateful to receive it among some of Bermuda’s brightest and talented individuals.

“To be in a room with multiple great minds of my peers was a heart-warming experience and I wish all of them the best on their journeys and hope to engage with them in the future to help build Bermuda together.”

Noah’s Ark Feed & Supply, the Devonshire pet company, hired her at 16. She has been working towards her education ever since.

For the first month and a half after she returned home from Halifax this summer, her weekdays were divided from 9.30am until 9.30pm between Noah’s Ark, the Bermuda Basketball Association and The Royal Gazette; an online university course kept her going from 10pm until about 12pm.

In her spare time, she worked for It’s That Type of Party, the political commentary team. And then, her sister Indigo convinced her to start a business.

“I was just doing it for myself,” she said as she explained how she started selling her crocheted designs. “I work and pay for my own schooling; I don’t get to buy my family presents. This year, I came home [from school] and decided to make my sister a skirt and top to go with it.”

The reaction on social media was encouraging — as was Indigo. Maya freed up more of her time, crocheting between 1am and 4am.

“Now, I only have three jobs because I needed more time to focus on my studies as I have another online course coming up,” she said. “I’m definitely a lot more present on social media than in real life. I have to thank my friends, Ra-Ché Williams and Azari Thomas.

“They continue to message me: ‘Hey, we’re doing this; come with us here’, to get me out of my cave. My heart goes out to them for at least trying to keep me socialised.”

Still, she’s glad she kept her focus. Next year, she graduates with an honours bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English.

“Yes I’m tired, but I’m willing to sacrifice sleep. Obviously doing it for almost all of summer, it’s taken a toll on me and, sometimes, I sleep during my lunch breaks at work.

Noah’s Ark are extremely accommodating to my hectic schedule and I’ll be for ever grateful.

They took a chance on a 16-year-old who showed up to her interview completely soaked from riding her bike there with no raincoat and accepted me every summer for employment.

“I’d also like to thank friends and family who helped me out financially throughout my journey.”

She’s also grateful for the roughly $3,000 she received each year from the English Speaking Union.

She built on that with her work as student manager for the Atlantic Collegiate Athletic Association, the governing body for collegiate sports in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

“[The job] probably paid for my groceries and rent,” she said, adding that the Bank of Bermuda scholarship will allow her to give it up so she can focus more on her studies.

She believes anyone can similarly achieve, as long as they stay focused.

“My advice to young people who are interested in education or furthering their studies and don’t have the funds, is to talk with your parents early — first year high school, earlier even.

“Find out if you even have a college fund. If it’s nothing, start saving. There’s always going to be a new shoe everyone has or an outing everyone is going to. Those always come around.

“You have to be certain this is something you are willing to fight for. Keep pushing, apply for everything under the sun.

“Network, network, network. At the end of the day, it’s about chasing your dreams; how hard you’re willing to work for it is up to you.

“Stay positive and communicate with someone you trust because the journey isn’t just a financial struggle, it’s a mental struggle too. You’ll have breakdown days, that’s normal, but don’t quit — you’re next.”

She’s already thinking about what comes after graduation.

“My sister would love for me to [continue making my clothes] but I want to try out for Miss Bermuda if they hold the competition,” the former Miss CedarBridge Academy said. “I want to shed insight on the public school system, specifically for the generation that is currently involved with it.

“Especially now that the [Ministry of Education] has decided to transition, I believe it’s a timely structure to focus on as the island develops into a new system — signature schools. People are what move and make a nation. It’s important to focus on how we plan to help mould and progress the future minds of the island.

“Growing up in the public school system I’ve always felt like [we were] the educational system’s ‘guinea pigs’.

“I don’t think they keep a curriculum long enough to see if it regulates actual statistical change.

“Some schools are unhealthy, teachers don’t get recognition for the overload of work they must complete, and there is always the issue of funds.

“I can say more, but public school education and education in general is important to me because, like the media, school has the power to make you believe anything that is strictly spoken to you; that’s a powerful source.

“I believe it is good to be sceptical which is why I like to find facts and see how I can help to change them.

“When it comes to public school education that is hand in hand with political decisions, doing what’s best and what is beneficial is a blurry line.”

With all she’s had going on this summer, the Bermuda women’s field hockey team member has had to push the sport aside.

For Maya, who is also a member of the Dalhousie University field hockey team and was named the Atlantic University League’s Rookie of the Year and All-Star Player in 2015, it’s been a huge loss.

“I hope to pick it back up before I go back to university,” she said. “I miss it.”

Fashion line the result of years of practice

Maya Palacio is known for her athleticism. but that might soon change.

With encouragement from her sister, Indigo, she started selling a clothing line this summer.

Made by Maya features pieces designed and crocheted by the 21-year-old; inside each purchase she tucks a bit of inspiration, one of her many self-penned quotes.

“My sister used to model a lot and said, ‘We should take pictures and put them on your Instagram page’,” the Bermuda women’s field hockey team member said. “At first I said, ‘I’m not ready for anything that big’ but, then, most things you’re not ready for you should probably start now.”

She’d honed her skill since the age of 12. Thanks to her artist mother, Gail, there was always “lots of yarn” around the house.

She picked out a selection and got to work making scarves for family members.

First came many mistakes, but on entering the University of King’s College she was able to make a dress that she wears to this day.

“I like watching things progress,” said Ms Palacio, who enters her final year at the Halifax school next month. “I love waiting for outcomes. Just like with a long race, I know I’ll finish with something strong. I can’t wait for that ending.

“I’m into almost everything. I can’t think of anything I haven’t tried or done.”

She and her sister travelled the island looking for places to showcase her designs, posting the pictures on social media. Requests poured in.

“I’ve made roughly 20 to 25 pieces with my sister directing the image and pushing me to do it,” Ms Palacio said. “Whatever is on social media is her idea about how to place everything.

“I just make stuff; she sells it. She’s a really good salesperson and so good at pushing my product.

“I got so much feedback, but it was overwhelming as well.”

Her aim is to set up a website where people can buy her stock.

“Working off Instagram and DMs is tough,” she laughed. “I’ve only been doing it for two or three months, but I’m handling it pretty well.

“The most rewarding part of it is just people’s expressions. I love seeing people happy; it’s truly a great thing to see. If my crocheting can help someone smile, it’s the best benefit. That’s what puts a smile on my face.”

Look for Maya Palacio’s clothing line, Made by Maya, on Instagram: @_madebmaya

In action: Maya Palacio playing for the Women's Bermuda Field Hockey team. Ms Palacio is a member of the Dalhousie University field hockey team and was named the Atlantic University League’s Rookie of the Year and All-Star Player in 2015 (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Good look: Indigo Palacio models her sister Maya's clothing line, Made by Maya (Photograph by Maya Palacio)
Beach ready: a swimsuit from Maya Palacio's line of crocheted clothing, Made by Maya (Photograph by Maya Palacio)