The Valley Dispatch/Gayle Simone
Methuen High School graduate Janiris Lopez is close with all her siblings, including stepbrother Gabriel.

METHUEN — At just 6 years old, Janiris Lopez came home from the dentist office without any cavities and wrote a letter to her dentist telling him she loved him and wanted to be a dentist when she grew up.

Her dreams are starting to come true.

Lopez received a full-tuition scholarship to the University of Connecticut for pre-dental studies.

“I honestly didn’t remember that story,” Lopez said. “My mom told me the story.”

Regardless, Lopez, 17, is graduating from Methuen High School tonight in the top 10 percent of her class before leaving for Connecticut in August.

Lopez said she will have an advantage when it comes to study habits because of attending a high school that doesn’t have walls.

“You get used to it after awhile,” Lopez said of the open-concept school. “My study habits are a lot easier now. I can study while people are talking, not losing my concentration. It definitely prepares you for college. … They are always pushing you to excel and do well.”

Lopez wasn’t just another face in the crowd at Methuen High. She changed that when she was a freshman.

“She walked into my office and asked how she could get involved,” guidance counselor Martha Tatro said.

Tatro suggested the Best Buddies Program, and Lopez gratefully took the challenge.

Best Buddies is a non-profit organization takes people with intellectual disabilities and pairs them one-on-one with other students in the school.

Lopez said Best Buddies helps build friendships and confidence by talking with your buddy and having outings as a group.

“You see the changes,” Lopez said. “I remember my buddy Meaghan; when we first met she wouldn’t look at anyone when they talked to her. She would just look at the floor and now she really has come out of her shell. It touches you to see the changes.”

Lopez isn’t a stranger to people with disabilities; her brother Jovanny, 18, was born deaf. She learned English, Spanish and sign language all at the same time growing up.

Lopez took four years of sign language classes through high school and hopes to become a dentist serving deaf and hearing patients.

She has been president of the MHS Best Buddies program for the past two years and hopes to continue when she attends UConn.

“I want to mention it my freshman year,” Lopez said. “And then start it as a sophomore. I already did the research and it takes a couple thousand dollars to get it started.”

Lopez has been working at Best Buy since September and doesn’t plan on taking the summer off to relax with her friends.

“I’ll be looking for a second job,” Lopez said. “And I want to take up a church project and a home project.”

Lopez said her church, Iglesia de Jesucristo el Buen Samaritano (The Church of Jesus Christ the Good Samaritan) is trying to reconstruct the temple, and she’d like to get involved by doing some fundraising. The home project is to clean her family’s attic.

When Lopez arrives in Connecticut she will be moving in with her father, Benny Lopez, who lives about 10 minutes from the college campus.

“I plan to spend my weekends and smaller vacations with my dad,” Lopez said. “And take the bigger vacations and summer vacations back home in Methuen.”

Lopez lives in Methuen with her mother, Anita Berrios, stepfather Gabriel, brother Jovanny, stepbrothers Gabriel and Jonathan and adoptive sister Nadya in Methuen. When she moves to Connecticut she will live with a stepmother, two half-sisters and a half-brother in addition to her father.

“My family is probably double the size of most families.”

Lopez credits all of her strength to her belief in God and plans to use that same belief to excel in college as well.