AUBURN — Robert James Suckow is not one to look at the dark side of things. 

Graduating senior Robert Suckow talks Friday with teacher Ernie Gagne prior to the start of Saint Dominic Academy commencement at the Auburn campus. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

When he first came to Saint Dominic Academy as a freshman, his school experience was somewhat warped by the complexities of COVID-19. For a while, the students studied remotely. For a while, everyone wore masks. It was not always easy to get to know your peers. 

“It was weird,” Suckow said Friday night, just minutes before graduating along with 28 of his classmates. “But now it’s something to look back on — something to compare to how good things are now. I don’t want to take the worst things away with me, I want to take the best.” 

As St. Dom’s graduated its 2023 class, lots of people looked back in the weirdness of the pandemic and how it seemed to strengthen people and bring them together. It became a kind of theme of the night, with several talking about the importance of perseverance, faith and unity. 

“Many nights we relied on each other, calling and texting and FaceTime-ing our ways through seemingly endless packets and assignments,” said Valedictorian Laura Wong. “Our mentality was that together we were stronger … We learned to rely on family, friends and faith, and to find comfort in them.” 

Over time, in some ways shaped by the strange days of their freshman year, the St. Dom’s Class of 2023 became leaders and role models for younger students coming into the school. 


“Your class provided excellent leadership for the school, demonstrating togetherness throughout the school year,” said popular teacher Stephen Shukie. “It has been wonderful to see the bonds you have made as classmates and friends, as well as the example you have set for the other classes to follow. While your class might not be the biggest in the school in number, you have certainly packed a tremendous punch with your involvement and voice.” 

It wasn’t just the students and the faculty that saw it that way, either.

“Their first year they were affected by the pandemic but continued to work hard and persevere through it together, dealing with the setbacks and the circumstances,” said Eric Samson, father of graduate Camren Paul Samson. “Here they are ready to take in the world. I’m proud of Camren and his classmates — I’m confident after their experience here they are ready and well prepared for the future.”

Bishop Robert Deeley, second from left, and Father Daniel Greenleaf laugh Friday as graduating seniors line up prior to the start of Saint Dominic Academy commencement at the Auburn campus. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Principal Alanna Stevenson, in her speech to the class, noted how the individual students grew and learned together as they marched onward toward graduation. 

“Over the four years of your high school experience, we have seen honorable traits flourish,” Stevenson said, “especially in this final year as you have prepared for life outside of Saint Dominic Academy.” 

Salutatorian Abigail Mitchell began her address with a quote from Mother Teresa: a quote that encouraged her classmates to be kind, forgiving and honest even when others are not. And while doing all that, she said, they should remember to do what they want with the future laid out before them. 


“Over the past four years we have been shaped into the people we are today by our friends and family, but ultimately we have the power to decide who we want to be,” she said. “If you want to sing and dance all alone while everyone is watching, talk to every random person you see, or do something completely out of the ordinary, go for it, because moments like that are what make you, you. We are not defined by the words of others and the judgment of society, but by how we express ourselves each and every day.” 

To many, it seemed like their high school days were just beginning, and yet, now here they were, on graduation night with their futures before them. 

Valedictorian Laura Wong talks Friday with her former chemistry teacher Sophie Ouellette prior to the start of Saint Dominic Academy commencement at the Auburn campus. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

“Look how time has flown!” said Wong. “We have gotten older, wiser and cooler. Once a pack of fledgling 9th graders, we have become a class that can work together to achieve our most challenging goals, all the while showing younger classes how it is done.” 

Wong will continue her studies at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island this fall. She plans to study marine science, but said she’s also interested in education and literature.

Samson is enrolled the University of Tennessee. Suckow is off to Arizona State to study environmental and marine science.

Others have plans of all kinds, but Shukie, their beloved teacher, reminded them to also remember where they come from. 

“Take a moment at your graduation to appreciate the love and support of your families, friends, classmates and teachers,” he said. “If someone is here to celebrate your achievements, they are worthy of your love and respect. For your parents and guardians, this moment may mean more to them than it does to you.” 

Beyond that, as the ceremony wound down and the students were truly to be off on their own, his advice to the departing class was simple. 

“Remember the past with fondness,” Shukie said, “cherish today, look forward to tomorrow, enjoy life.” 

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