Saint Dominic Academy seniors Callie Samson, left, gives her cousin Madison Samson a hug as the two try to calm their nerves prior to marching into the school gymnasium for Friday night’s graduation. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

The Rev. Seamus Griesbach, back left, chaplain of Saint Dominic Academy in Lewiston, and Maine Bishop Robert Deeley, back right, applaud as the senior class marches into the gym for Friday’s graduation. Senior Peyton Winslow, left, waves to other faculty members lined up in the hall cheering them on. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

As Saint Dominic Academy prepared to graduate its 2018 class, all of the usual signs of youthful enthusiasm were seen among the students.

The jokes and the laughter. The high-fives and exuberant hugs. A sense of giddiness rippled through the halls of St. Dom’s.

“I’m excited,” said graduate Madison Richard. “Happy. It’s a small school where everyone knows everyone.”

“There’s a lot of good energy in the air,” said Julian Thomas Roger, standing in the hall with a group of his classmates. “This is a great peak after all of our hard work. I’m just really excited.”

Optimism and glee ruled the night, but beneath it was also a sense of loss that no one wanted to put aside completely.

Even in their happiest moments Friday night, the students of Saint Dom’s paid tribute to Casey Cloutier, their 14-year-old classmate who was killed in a car crash his freshman year.

“Although his presence was missed these past three and a half years,” said Abigail Slonina, announcing that the yearbook would be dedicated to Cloutier’s memory, “his spirit has lived on in our school as his classmates have become graduates.”

In her address, Salutatorian Taylor Brown Jorgensen suggested that in many ways, the tragedy of losing Cloutier helped shape the Class of 2018.

“No one could have imagined that only a few months into our freshman year, we would lose Casey: our classmate, teammate and friend,” Jorgensen said. “We chose to let Casey’s life be a guiding force for ours, remembering him in our most joyful moments.”

Cloutier and his father were killed in a December 2014 crash on Route 202 in Leeds. He and his classmates were just months into their freshman year at Saint Dom’s.

“This, above all else, was the moment the Class of 2018 could not imagine recovering from,” Valedictorian Amelie Sophie Crowe said. “But here we are. Although we’ll never forget Casey, we have risen above the sorrow and emerged stronger, better people.”

In the graduation program, Cloutier’s name was listed along with the 42 others who graduated Friday night. While they took pains to remember their fallen friend, the young men and women talked about their plans.

Roger said he plans to work over the summer to make money before heading off to study computer software engineering.

Richard was heading to the University of Maine at Augusta where she is enrolled in pre-dental hygiene studies.

The Saint Dom’s graduates have ambitions, and how to best approach those ambitions was a common theme during the Friday night ceremony.

“Our happiness is up to us,” Jorgensen said. “Let’s try not to spend our time worrying about what’s going to happen next. Let’s avoid expectations. Let’s do what we can to make our lives happy ones.”

“Each of us has an incredible future ahead of us, one that, up to now, has been supported by everybody sitting here today,” Crowe said. “Now it’s our turn to learn to support ourselves and to support those around us. I don’t think many people will be disappointed with the results.”

Like many of her classmates, Crowe also expressed gratitude to Saint Dom’s staff — from the teachers to the school chaplain — who provided the students the best possible opportunity to flourish.

“They were all the people who made you laugh when you wanted to cry, made you dance when you wanted to sit, made you talk when you couldn’t, and stretched you beyond what was possible,” Crowe said.

Most of the graduates said that following the ceremony, they were heading off to the school’s Project Graduation, held this year in North Conway, New Hampshire.

After that? Life plans of all kinds.

“I have had the pleasure of watching you grow and mature,” Principal Shelly Wheeler said, “and I’m confident that you are ready for the world outside of Saint Dom’s.”

School President Donald Fournier offered his students advice that was encouraging and perhaps a little bit daunting.

“Congratulations,” Fournier told the students, “and get ready to change the world.”