There is no such thing as a “smart” kid or “dumb” kid. What makes the difference between a student making the top of the honor roll is the effort each student puts in, according to 2021 All Bahamas Merit Scholar (ABMS) Maya Tilberg. She said this is what her teachers have always told her, which is why she puts her all into her studies and is committed to her work. Tilberg’s decision to apply herself to her academics is the reason she is now pursuing a bachelor’s degree, absolutely free, having been awarded $210,296 in scholarships – the ABMS valued at $140,000 over four years, coupled with the Mark Twain Scholarship from the University of Missouri in the amount of $17,547 per year for four years.
“My parents are both dentists. As you can imagine, that means they work around the clock. Not a day goes by that their phones don’t ring with some dental emergency, especially during the pandemic. Watching how hard they work to support me and my education prompted me to take action. I wanted to find a way to help them – to offer them the same support they offer me. So, I studied my hardest. I drafted many essays. I poured myself into my extracurriculars, and when my friends, family, and guidance counselors notified me about this amazing scholarship [ABMS], I had to apply. However, never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be the All Bahamas Merit Scholarship winner. And now, my parents [Dr. Tanya Mortemore and Dr. Todd Tilberg] can live the next four years sleeping peacefully at night knowing that their daughter’s education is taken care of,” said Tilberg.
She said the scholarship is the reason she and her family are practically “bouncing off the walls” in celebration.
She also said she owes the majority of her success to her ability to manage time. Tilberg said she knows when to put her book down, get a good night’s rest, say a prayer and trust that she has studied to the best of her ability and prepared adequately for a test.
“The key to a report card you can be proud of is to take a break every once in a while to hang out with friends and rest your brain.”
The teen, who is studying biological sciences at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri, graduated St. Augustine’s College (SAC) with a 3.99 grade point average (GPA) and said getting an education means everything to her.
“Education symbolizes a bright future. I view it as the pathway to me becoming a contributing member of society, like my parents, who are both dentists. Education is what will allow me to become a successful orthopedic surgeon and return to The Bahamas to be with my family and give back to the country that has offered me so much.”
As for her ABMS award, the highest level of merit scholarship awarded by The Bahamas government, valued at $35,000 per annum for up to five years depending on the degree pursued – $140,000 over four years; of $175,000 over five years dependent on the degree program, and tenable at accredited universities locally or abroad, she said she is still having trouble believing it.
“This scholarship means everything to me. It has given me the opportunity to travel abroad and study what I love without being a burden to my parents. I am so honored that my country chose me to be its ambassador and show the rest of the world what it means to be a Bahamian.”
Academically, she thinks she is a mixture of both her parents.
“I take after my mother in that I am thorough in my work. I will not hand in something that I do not believe I have tried my best on. You can bet that there will never be silly spelling errors or grammar mistakes on one of my essays. My mother would kill me if I didn’t check over my work. In terms of my father, I can handle constructive criticism as I know my teachers are only trying to bring out the best in me. I take their criticisms and try my best to improve. I listen attentively and try to live up to their expectations,” she said.
As she transitions into college, in a pandemic, Tilberg said she has come to learn to “roll with the punches” as she said COVID-19 cannot just be “poofed” away.
“It will not leave or even die down until my fellow Bahamians go and get vaccinated. I have done my part in getting vaccinated. So, now I am doing the best I can with the material afforded me this year as I wait for those around me to help our society move forward from this pandemic. I believe myself to be a fairly flexible person and so I am simply trying my best to remain focused and on track as my professors try their best to connect with me and help me academically. I am willing to sacrifice a little bit of the typical college experience of wild parties and a crazy social life if it means that it will help the world get through this pandemic even a little bit faster.”
The SAC valedictorian’s advice to her peers is to always remember that the motivation to succeed in education can only come from themselves. The ABMS said students cannot rely on their parents or teachers to force them to study or complete homework forever. She said that will only lead to them crashing and burning in college.
“My advice to students is to find the desire within them to succeed. To think about where they see themselves in 10 years, and to determine what they need to do in order to become that future version of themselves. Only then will they be able to succeed as they will have something worth fighting for – a better future.”
Tilberg scored 1,400 on her Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), and passed 10 Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE) examinations with an A grade.
She was also the recipient of the 2021 Bahamas Association of Independent Secondary Schools (BAISS) Academic Leader Award.
Tilberg won the award in the 25th year of the ABMS being meted out since its inception in 1993, but she is the 26th individual to receive the ABMS. In 2019, dual ABMS were named for the first time in the award’s history in Mahlia Neely and Dehron Smith; they were the 24th recipients.
To be considered for the ABMS award, applicants must have a GPA of 3.7 and above, a minimum of eight BGCSE’s with at least eight A passes, have applied to or been accepted to an academically prestigious accredited college or university, have an SAT score of 1,220 and above, demonstrate excellence in co-curricular activities, possess an unwavering dedication to improving the lives of Bahamians, and demonstrate a strong moral character and the potential to lead.