At the end of eighth grade, Brown County High School senior Sean “Nic” Lopes was fourth in his class. That’s when he decided he was going to become No. 1.

“People didn’t really think of me as an intelligent person,” Lopes said, sitting in the high school library.

“I didn’t really have a lot of guidance when I was younger about, like, taking advanced classes and stuff, so in seventh grade I took, like, one (advanced class), I think. Then in eighth grade I started taking more, then I realized other people around me were trying harder and I was like, ‘Oh, I need to be better than them.’”

On Friday night, Lopes reached that goal, when he addressed the Brown County High School Class of 2017 as their valedictorian.

He credits his success to paying attention to details in class, not procrastinating on assignments and “wanting to be successful and learning from not only my mistakes, but the mistakes of people around me.”

Unlike most high school seniors, Lopes didn’t spend many late nights cramming for exams or writing papers. “It’s for time-wasters,” he said.

He didn’t have time for late nights because he was working. He worked at the Brown County IGA for two years until he “retired,” he said.

His paychecks went toward buying a car, paying for car insurance and a few fun activities, like going out to eat.

“That’s probably why you haven’t heard of me, because I spent a lot of time working,” he said.

He didn’t play on any high school athletic teams, but he does enjoy playing recreational basketball and football at Deer Run Park and the Brown County YMCA. He also volunteered for Big Brothers Big Sisters for three years, mentoring three different youngsters.

“A lot of kids just don’t have good home lives, so they struggle to come to school where everything is supposed to be organized,” Lopes said. “And I think having someone that can help guide them with that is really important.”

Lopes was elected junior class co-president and senior class president. He was a member of National Honor Society, National French Honor Society, French Club and student council and participated on science, math and interdisciplinary academic teams.

In the fall, he will begin studying electrical engineering at Purdue University. But he won’t stop there. He plans to attend law school because he wants to be a patent attorney.

“I think it would be really cool to help with building inventions and stabilizing and protecting those ideas,” he said.

He doesn’t intend to stay in Indiana, either. He said he wants to live on the West Coast or somewhere warmer, like Texas.

Looking back over his time in high school, Lopes said it wasn’t as stressful and was better than he expected.

“It’s pretty open here, and there’s a lot of freedom that you don’t have until you get to high school,” he said.

His advice to freshmen would be not to worry about being “smart” or not, but rather to work hard and pay attention to detail. What matters most is to set goals and a specific plan to reach them, which is something he has noticed some of his classmates struggle with, Lopes said.

“It comes back to just being desperate about your goals. You have to desperately want your goals; otherwise, they’re not going to happen,” he said.