Quote teaches us valuable lesson

Paris Gray isn’t an irresponsible student.   She’s her senior class’ vice president.

She didn’t drink and drive and kill somebody. She’s involved in Students Against Drunk Driving and other organizations.

Still, the Atlanta student came close this week to being barred from speaking at her high school graduation, because of a yearbook quote.

Kevin Wilson

Kevin Wilson

Gray’s yearbook quote read, “When the going gets tough just remember to Barium, Carbon, Potassium, Thorium, Astatine, Arsenic, Sulfur, Uranium, Phosphorus.”

The message, which got through editors and adults, is spelled out on the periodic table as … well, it rhymes with, “Back that Glass Up.”

She said the quote was a reminder that you can always start over. But the school told her the inspirational speech she was slated to give was off the table.

Administrators came to their senses Tuesday, and her superintendent challenged her to “give the best speech ever.” The school did the right thing in the end, but I was troubled that this punishment was even considered.

High school was full of kids sending secret messages, seeing what they could get past authority figures. My friend snuck “Beer Wagon” as his vanity license plate because he alternated the letters of the abbreviated words … and then convinced the DMW employee that “BWEGENR” was short for “Black Wagoneer.” He barely graduated, but he did because he had the grades.

There are always going to be kids doing what they can to rock the boat. Kids dance on stage when they get their diplomas. Kids take camera phone selfies as they get their degrees. I’m willing to bet those same kids did crazy stuff during the four years that preceded those degrees, and they still got to take part in the time-honored tradition of the graduate walk.

I was always taught from grade school on some simple tenets. If you see there’s a mistake in your textbook, prove why you’re right. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, rock the boat a little bit. You might even improve something around you for the next person. They’ll get a better textbook because you saw page 46 had the wrong answer. Mrs. Johnson won’t waste a minute of her fifth-grade class erasing the incorrect statement Mr. Williamson told his fourth-grade class.

Had Gray missed her graduation, the enduring lesson would have been, “Don’t you dare challenge the authorities government has put in front of you.”

I’m sure Paris Gray has learned a valuable lesson the last few weeks. And I’m glad her school has taught her, and maybe themselves, a valuable lesson about second chances.

Kevin Wilson is a columnist for Clovis Media Inc. He can be contacted at 763-3431, ext. 319, or by email:

kwilson@cnjonline.com