The Chemistry Joke That Got a Student Suspended

"Administrators were not pleased once they figured it out."
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Paris Gray, upstanding vice president of her about-to-graduate high-school class in Jonesboro, Georgia, was suspended last Friday when administrators figured out what her yearbook quote meant. It read:

When the going gets tough, just remember to Barium, Carbon, Potassium, Thorium, Astatine, Arsenic, Sulfur, Uranium, Phosphorus.

So, when the going gets tough, just remember to [Ba][C][K] [Th][At] [As][S] [U][P].

WSB-TV

"Basically, it was me just saying start all over again," Gray told Carl Willis of the local news station WSB-TV last night. Gray was a toddler when Juvenile's song "Back That Azz Up" spent a summer dominating the Billboard Hot Rap Singles chart and capsizing a lexicon. Whatever wisdom might be drawn from that song is at odds with Gray's sunny interpretation of the phrase: "You have to go back and start all over."

Administrators barred Gray from participating in a senior walk on Friday, Willis reported. She was also supposed to speak at the upcoming graduation ceremony, but Gray said an assistant principal told her that was off.

Reporting from the parking lot of Mundy's Mill High School last night, Willis said Gray is "a good kid by all accounts," a member of Students Against Drunk Driving, a leader and student-athlete. Gray's mother, Zarinah Woods, said, "My first reaction was, you are such a nerd."

"It just completely destroyed me," Gray said, "and my mom's been telling me don't let it ruin my happiness, but it's, like, really taking a big toll."

But Internet justice is in motion, and it loves chemistry, and it loves wordplay, and it loves 90s references, intentional or otherwise. Overnight the story spread, and this morning it got picked up by some national outlets. If Gray doesn't get to graduate with her class, it won't go over well. The school's principal called Gray and Woods shortly after they spoke with the nightly news, and a school district spokesperson said that the area superintendent would meet with Woods this morning.

Magnesium, Oxygen, Molybdenum, Rhenium, Arsenic, Thorium, Iodine, Sulfur, Sulfur, Tritium, Oxygen, Rubidium, Yttrium, Uranium, Nitrogen, Fluorine, Oxygen, Lithium, Deuterium, Sulfur Darmstadtium.

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Update, 5/20/14 11:00 P.M. via WSBTV: Today Gray and her family met with the principal and area superintendent, who apologized. They said they will allow Gray to speak at graduation and challenged her to "give the best speech ever."

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James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The Atlantic.

 
 
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