THIS is the time of year I emulate George Washington two centuries back and give my graduating seniors a farewell address. This year, in order to make myself relevant to a generation thriving on body language, I've used a lot of facial features to drive home my points: ``Dear students,'' I say, face thrust forward in noblest possible pose, ``as you venture into the world, keep your nose to the grindstone. Whether you're dealing with highbrows or lowbrows, don't act as if you're wet behind the ears. Believe me, you'll pay through the nose if you give lip service to this advice. Don't be down in the mouth; instead keep a stiff upper lip. And arise early each day so as to get a head start on your work, but don't be headstrong, a trait that can be disseminated through word of mouth.
``Be wary of skin-deep projects. As for people, well, they can be real eye-openers at times. So don't be afraid to bend an ear -- or two. There are times to save face and times to face off, but play it by ear when the going gets tough. And whatever you do, don't cut off your nose to spite your face. Split hairs, but not your nose. By all means, don't lose your head.
``Keep an eye out for good opportunities, but sticking out one's neck can lead to a lot of problems. I know such wisdom is already on the tip of your tongue, but you'd be surprised to know how many people go through life by the skin of their teeth. Keep up with your work each and every day will ensure that you'll never be up to your ears in assignments. Be toothsome but not nosy to avoid a tongue-lashing in life.''
Believe it or not, some of my students couldn't make heads or tails out of my lecture, and a couple thought the whole exercise to be tongue in cheek. But one felt so inspired by my remarks that he offered me a parting word of advice.
Catching my eye as I left the room, he said, ``Keep your chins up.''
Thomas V. DiBacco is a historian at the American University.