Our September cover story on astronaut-in-training Alyssa Carson made a splash, especially on social media, as people around the world commented on the inspiration she provides. Photo by Malcolm Denemark/Florida Today via AP.

inRegister’s most-read cover stories of 2020

Sure, 2020 got off to a great start. We reeled through the first few months still sparkling with the verve of “Roaring Twenties” parties. We dressed up for Mardi Gras. We toasted on Valentine’s Day and waited for the annual slew of spring festivals to carry us into the easy breeze of summer. Ah, well, c’est la vie. The truth is, we’ve managed to forge through a trying time together, and much of that momentum comes from you, trusty reader, always keen on learning more and taking part in the vibrancy still simmering in Baton Rouge, even at the end of the year.

As always, we’ve snatched up stories where they lay, scouring the city for surprising gems in the form of astronauts and opera divas, chicken farms and high cuisine, and delivered them to you in hopes that they might lend a few more reasons to keep an eye out for our tough little town. In celebration of a year like no other, we’ve rounded up our three most talked-about cover stories from 2020, because old acquaintance should not be forgotton.

Click the titles of the stories below to read the full features:

3. Stars in her eyes: Astronaut-in-training Alyssa Carson pursues a gravity-defying goal

After earning her pilot’s license at age 18, Baton Rouge native Alyssa Carson now has her sights way beyond Earth’s atmosphere in her quest to become one of the first humans on Mars. Her mission has resonated with astrophiles around the globe, and her @nasablueberry Instagram account now has more than 307,000 followers. Photo by Jason Hook/Courtesy Space Coast Magazine.

I don’t know how much you’d accomplished before your twentieth birthday, but I have a feeling it didn’t involve international TED Talks, fluency in multiple languages, a pilot’s license, a training mission in Antarctica, and oh, yeah—a pretty good shot at becoming one of the first humans to travel to Mars.

If such a thing ever becomes possible, Baton Rouge native Alyssa Carson will certainly be among those lifting off, having fostered the starry-eyed dream since childhood, and now, as a sophomore at the Florida Institute of Technology, taking the steps toward takeoff. Famous for her status among fellow young adults, as well as for her influence alongside other established scientists in the fields of astrobiology (Carson’s major field of study), astrophysics, and any other astro- you can think of, Carson’s potential—already impressive to begin with—is still just emerging, so we made sure to catch up with her–six year years after our first conversation–before she headed back to college on the “Space Coast” of America.

2. What a diva: Baton Rouge’s Lisette Oropesa is at the top of the opera world

Oropesa stands in the lobby of the Met Opera House at Lincoln Center. Photo by Jonathan Tichler/Metropolitan Opera.

Singing in more than 100 performances at the Metropolitan Opera might eventually lead to a bit of conceit in any artist prized for their unique talent, but not so for Lisette Oropesa. Born in New Orleans and raised in Baton Rouge, her down-home humility continues to bring her from the Opéra National de Paris to her alma mater LSU to teach master classes and perform for other hopefuls dreaming of inching toward roles she herself has starred in, from La Traviata to Manon, in spite of her growing reputation on the international stage.

Think you’ve already attempted your life’s calling and failed? Maybe think again. Oropesa didn’t even enjoy choir while she was a young girl in school, but her preference for band class nonetheless hinted a potential future in music, and well, look at her now. Even during COVID-19, Oropesa has continued to perform in respected opera houses like the Teatro Real in Madrid, and she doesn’t show signs of stopping anytime soon. Take a look back at this piece to retrace her success from high school to the high life.

1. Secret Gardens: Behind intricate gates are outdoor hideaways meant to be shared

Poppy Brashier, Eliza Beaumont’s youngest resident, and her mother Melissa spend a majority of their time in the home’s various outdoor sanctuaries, which were designed by Ryan Cole Landscape Architecture. Photos by Jordan Hefler.

Leave it to Baton Rougeans to be on the constant hunt for a shady spot to rest our feet after a long summer spent pacing, cooking and jogging through lockdown. The courtyards of Eliza Beaumont Lane proved ample fodder for dreams of an at-home getaway back in October, when we gained access to several private paradises hiding behind the sidewalks of this evergreen neighborhood.

In a world where even the smallest of outdoor spaces became a luxury for those looking for a quiet respite, these courtyards brought a sense of peace and wonder strong enough to get us through the remaining days of autumn, happy to live in such a beautiful state with such beautiful places to call home.

What was your favorite cover story from the past year? Let us know in the comments below.