I adore children. Right up until the age of 12. If you ask me, 13-year-olds are probably the reason boarding school was invented. My teen years were riddled with adolescent angst and helping my own children navigate the phase was often excruciatingly difficult, too.
Although my kids are grown now and I no longer have teenagers in my home, issues parents are currently dealing with such as The Tide Pod Challenge, cyber bullying and ‘empathy deficits’ have done little to change my stance regarding the tumultuous stage known as adolescence.
When I was asked to cover the Lassen’s Got Talent show, I anticipated spending a large portion of the event silently praying for each contestants guardian angel to be working overtime because no matter how good these kids were, they were surely walking into a lion’s den of gossipy, judgmental and snarky peers.
However, Lassen County is a veritable hub of talent, so I expected to be dazzled. And, true to form, I was impressed with the first act — a rendition of Hallelujah that was very, very good.
The second number was an absolutely breathtaking dance that held me captive — right up until the dancer fled the gym. The young lady was so graceful that even her exit was like a bird taking flight.
The dancer had succumbed to stage fright which, considering the venue, her status as a freshman and the fact that dancing had not been attempted in the tiny space allotted before (never mind Acro dancing — the acro being short for acrobatic), her reaction was perfectly understandable.
Come to think of it, I’m not even sure how any of these kids survived auditioning.
Even seasoned performers suffer in silent terror. It may surprise many readers to learn that Adele suffers from stage fright.
“One show in Amsterdam, I was so nervous I escaped out the fire exit,” she admitted to Rolling Stone Magazine in an interview. Adele has such significant stage fright that she throws up before nearly every concert — despite her many years of performance experience.
These were my thoughts after Alyssa Zimmerman’s hasty exit. Also, I considered what I would say if I had the opportunity to offer her a pep talk.
Would I begin with a trite expression such as, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take?” Maybe I would share how she was already braver than I could ever be by just showing up? I could encourage her with the fact that even the brief glimpse of her performance conveyed exquisite talent …
Turns out she didn’t need my help. Every single performer who followed her expressed both vulnerability and courage that day. And, several gave voice to their anxiety. One young man even called the experience “terrifying.”
Although the panel of judges were called to play a certain role, (in the style of America’s Got Talent) their critiques were rebuked by the audience. One young lady spoke up as the voice of reason in defense of another competitor’s stage presence, commenting as the lone voice out of an entire crowd of her peers.
In the end, Alyssa returned to the stage and danced her heart out to a standing ovation, winning the entire competition.
As I looked over the crowd of students cheering her on, I knew I was witnessing something very special. The sense of camaraderie was so tangible I could feel positive energy filling the room. My heart was filled with pride for the youth of our community.
I’ve been hearing a lot about the “We Are Lassen” movement, and I saw the motto come to life that morning. Later, I discovered that the attribute for the month was — strong. Every aspect of that event exemplified strength and loyalty. The display of courage and support also portrayed excellence, respect and nobility.
The audience was authentically engaged and welcoming. The connectivity demonstrated was the result of a new focus. This transformative movement has resulted in a positive way of relating as a group which also contributes to the success of each individual. The students and staff of Lassen High School are creating an experience which will in turn impact families, teachers — our entire community — and beyond. That’s powerful.
I felt honored to see the story unfold. My perception of teenagers has been altered — instead of bracing for potential hostility, I want to lean in and listen. And, learn.
I collect stories of courage and persistence. They help sustain me when I am low. When the current negative partisan tone drowns out hope, I recall tales of endurance in the face of adversity, and I find courage in them. It seems possible to overcome difficult circumstances because others have gone before me.
Now, I have these beautiful examples of humanity to lean on:
I will always picture the Lassen High School students who gave a standing ovation in support of their classmate when I am facing rejection.
I’ll remember there are others who understand and will cheer me on when I’m struggling and especially that those supporters outnumber those who condemn.
And, Alyssa, I will always keep the image of seeing you return to the stage (even before you executed the choreography with perfect grace) as an example for when I need to pick myself up and resume battle. Thank you for showing me how.