April 10, 2014 04:30 PM

The roots of Aquinas College professor Stephen Barrows‘s brief moment of viral fame lie at the Air Force Academy.

There, Barrows’s colleague Jeff Smith had a simple policy for keeping order in his classroom: If a student’s cell phone went off, he would have to answer it, on speakerphone, in front of the entire class. When Barrows retired from the Air Force after 21 years to teach economics at Aquinas College, a Catholic liberal arts school in Michigan, he brought the practice with him.

For much of Barrows’s first year on the job, the policy worked; the prospect of embarrassment was such a strong deterrent that no student actually tested it.

That changed on April 1, when student Taylor Nefcy’s cell phone rang during a macro lecture. True to his word, Barrows made her put the phone on speaker – only to find, to his shock and alarm, that the call was from a pregnancy center, who informed Nefcy that her test results had come back positive.

“I remember thinking, ‘Did I put this person in a horrible situation?'” Barrows told PEOPLE.com. “There was a whole atmosphere of mortification in the classroom.”

Barrows quickly apologized, but Nefcy told him not to worry, she’d already come up with a name for her baby.

First name: April. Last name: Fools.

“It took a moment to sink in,” Barrows admitted. “She played if off so smoothly.”

He soon got the joke, as did the rest of the country: A video of the prank went viral, gaining more than 20 million views and leading to interview requests from Michigan Live, the Christian Post and HuffPost Live.

Soon, Barrows and the 25 students in his macro class were campus celebrities.

“One student told me I was Aquinas royalty,” the professor recalled. Old Air Force colleagues, other professors and even a high school acquaintance came out of the woodwork to tell him how much they loved the prank.

In the first session after the fateful phone call, the class bonded over the experience, sharing stories about their taste of viral fame – but they only got through half of Barrows’s lesson plan that day.

Now things have returned to normal, but Barrows assured PEOPLE that prank, with its combination of humor, creativity and empathy, will be “a lifetime memory for everybody.”

“I think of myself as a beneficiary of an April Fools’ prank, not a victim.”

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