Arabela Llamelo has made history by becoming the first Lanai graduate of the University of Hawaii Maui College Academy for Creative Media (ACM). Overcoming financial challenges and embracing her passion for graphic design and illustration, Llamelo has achieved an impressive milestone by earning her associate degree entirely online.
Llamelo’s family, originally from the Philippines, moved to Hawaii with the hope of providing their children with a better life. Her parents worked on a farm, striving to create better opportunities and a brighter future for their family.
“When I was growing up, my parents would tell me stories of how every morning they would wake up, eat breakfast, and help with their parent’s farm,” Llamelo says. “Then, they would go to school, and it was the usual two-hour walk, because they didn’t have enough money for transportation. I’m really grateful that they made a lot of sacrifices and worked hard to come here.”
Llamelo’s artistic talent emerged at a young age. When she was just six years old, she won first place in a local art competition. This early success fueled her creativity and inspired her to explore different art forms. One of Llamelo’s favorite aspects of art is drawing anatomy, but she’s also taken classes in ceramics and painting, honing her skills and expanding her artistic abilities.
After finishing high school, Llamelo initially didn’t think she could afford to go to college, and she wasn’t sure if pursuing a career in art was practical. But, her family and faculty from Maui College saw her potential and encouraged her to consider the ACM program.
At ACM Maui, students can pursue associate in science degrees and certificates of achievement in areas such as creative media, filmmaking, graphic design and web development. The program also allows graduates with an associate in science degree to continue their education and pursue a bachelor of arts degree through two more years of study at the University of Hawaii – West Oahu, either in person or online.
Llamelo says her time in the program exceeded her expectations and helped her grow as an artist. While studying graphic design, she explored filmmaking and screenwriting, expanding her creative skills. She also had the opportunity to gain real world experience by working with a small business to create logos and designs. Her work was so impressive that the business reached out to her afterward, asking permission to use her designs.
“It was a challenge getting my thoughts down, jotting every logo design down and bringing the owner’s ideas to life but overall, I enjoyed every moment,” Llamelo says.
Motivated by her passion and the opportunities that education brings, Llamelo decided to continue her studies instead of stopping at an associate degree. She now plans to attend UH West Oahu to earn her bachelor’s degree in general creative media, getting closer to her ultimate career goal of owning her own business.
Llamelo also encourages Lanai High & Elementary School students interested in pursuing a similar path to believe in their artistic abilities and not let their doubts hold them back.
“Don’t stop at what you’re doing. If it’s something that you love to do or you’re passionate about then don’t stop,” Llamelo says. “I encourage those who want to pursue art to not think that art is only a hobby. It can be more than that.”
Photo and artwork courtesy of Arabela Llamelo.