When she took the stage at Kelly Walsh High School’s annual RodStock (an afternoon-long opportunity for students to perform and showcase their talents to an auditorium of their peers, named after beloved teacher Rodney Mahaffey and created as a fundrasier for the Make A Wish Foundation), Alyssa Lattimer wasn’t sure what the reaction would be. But she didn’t care. She just wanted to sing.

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The opening licks of Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ echoed over the PA system and she began to sing.

The performance itself was inspiring. Alyssa moved from one side of the stage to the other, engaging the audience and jumping up and down at the music breaks. She was a rock star. The performance was one for the books.

But the reaction from her peers was…astonishing.

“Okay,” Alyssa started as that unmistakable piano riff began. Before she even began singing, the crowd cheered her on. She started swaying her hips, with just the little bit of attitude that is necessary when one is performing a Journey song.

“Just a small-town girl, living in a lonely world.” After just a few lines from the first verse, Alyssa’s own voice was drown out by the cheers of her peers. It started quietly but then, like a wave, it got larger and larger before washing over the entire auditorium. With every note she sang and every move she busted, Alyssa brought the house down. A twirl on center stage cemented her presence and caused the audience to erupt.

Though most people in the audience weren’t old enough to even buy cigarettes, for just a few minutes, Alyssa was “a singer in a smoky room.”

“The smell of wine and cheap perfume,” she belted out as the audience erupted one more time.

As the pre-chorus kicked in, like any true professional, Alyssa strutted across the stage, first to stage right and then to stage left. She pointed at the crowd like she was Steve Perry in ’81 and they responded with another wave of applause.

“Everybody wants a thrill,” Alyssa sang. And, for her and everyone else that was in the Kelly Walsh Auditorium on that day, that’s exactly what they got. Everybody began clapping on beat as Alyssa took another spin.

With the crowd eating out of the palm of her hand, she continued. “Some will win, some will lose, some were born to sing the blues,” she sang. Alyssa’s performance left no doubt that she was absolutely, positively, one hundred percent born to sing, to be a performer.

And then, something funny happened. A light turned on in the crowd. Then another one. And another. Suddenly, the entire auditorium was radiating with cellphone flashes. It looked like a scene straight out of CBGB’s. But the brightest light of all came from Alyssa’s eyes as she sang this song, her song, for her friends.

The final bridge began, it was time for the big ending. She jumped, she sang, she swayed back and forth. Alyssa pumped her fist in the air on beat and led the entire student body through the final bits of the song.

“Don’t Stop,” echoed through the room and, finally, the song did stop. But that’s when the magic happened.

So many talented Kelly Walsh students performed on Thursday. There were singers, musicians, dancers and more. All of them, every single one, did a fantastic job and they demonstrated just how important the arts are to public schools. They made Mr. Mahaffey proud.

But Alyssa was the only one who got a standing ovation.

One by one, students leapt to their feet to show Alyssa support. The sound was deafening. Many faculty members had tears in their eyes. And the smile on Alyssa’s face was the stuff storybooks are made of.

RodStock didn’t happen last year, due to COVID-19 restrictions. For many students and faculty members, this was the first time in a long time they gathered in one place to watch art. There were certainly future stars on that stage, but it was Alyssa’s performance that really cut to the core of what RodStock was all about.

It’s about finding yourself, peeking out of your comfort zone, allowing yourself to be vulnerable. That’s hard for anybody to do, let alone a bunch of high school kids. But that’s what they did, and Alyssa led the charge. Something powerful happened that day in Casper. Alyssa reminded the crowd that it’s okay to be who you are. She reminded them that it’s okay to sing and dance and jump around and be silly. She showed them it was okay to have fun. And they did. The audience had fun. They laughed and they cheered and everybody in that room will hold onto that feeling for a long time.

Alyssa Lattimer believed in herself and, through her song, she taught others to believe in themselves too. And, most importantly, she taught them to never, ever, stop believing.

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