This year we celebrate the 200th anniversary, or "perennial," of the United States Constitution, the precious document that we, as Americans, have a sacred duty to preserve and protect and defend and never spill Zoo-Roni upon.

What makes the Constitution so precious? This, indeed, is an essay-style question such as millions of high-school students will be forced to drone on about at great length in written examinations during this 200th anniversary year. Let me give you students a word of thoughtful advice: Repetition. Yes sir, the key is repetition, repetition, repetition. Never say: "James Madison and Alexander Hamilton were Federalists." Say: "James Madison was a Federalist, but he was not the only Federalist. No, for in terms of people who were Federalists, one would also have to include Alexander Hamilton in this category. Of being a Federalist."

I know what I'm talking about here, young people: I'm a journalist. And as a journalist, I am deeply aware that were it not for freedom of the press, which is constitutionally guaranteed by the First Amendment, or perhaps the Third Amendment -- it is definitely one of the amendments -- I would probably have to get a real job.

Another thing: You cannot be forced to lodge soldiers in your home. This is also stated right in the Constitution, and I suppose it's a good thing. Although there are times when I wouldn't mind having soldiers lodged in my home, such as the other day when my wife told me the lawn-sprinkler valve was leaking, and I went outside to check it out, in my role as a Guy Fixing a Mechanical Problem, and suddenly -- this is the truth -- a totally unanticipated snake stuck its head out of the valve, and I was forced to switch over to my role of a Guy With No Pulse Backing Away From a Valve.

If there had been soldiers lodging in my home, they could have dealt with this situation calmly and professionally by shooting the snake into 30,000 pieces with machine guns, but, as it was, I had to stand helplessly by while the snake slithered away, which makes me very nervous, because what if it turns out to be the same with snakes as with man-eating tigers, in the sense that once a snake gets a taste for plumbing, it wants more and more? What if one night I find it coiled in my Water Pik oral hygiene device?

So we cannot say the Constitution is perfect. But we can say it is a visionary document created by a group of farsighted men who had the courage to make a bold fashion statement consisting of wigs and tight toreador pants; men who bravely journeyed to Philadelphia years before the discovery of the New Jersey Turnpike to wrestle with complex and crucial questions concerning the government of the fledgling nation, such as:

1. Should the states have the power to license manicurists?

2. Should Iowa have a nickname? What?

3. What should be the National Insect?

(Answers: 1. Yes; 2. The Very Flat State; 3. Oral Roberts.)

These were knotty issues indeed, and the delegates to the Constitutional Convention had many angry debates, which were all settled by wise elder statesman Benjamin Franklin, who was always ready with a pithy and totally incomprehensible saying. "A penny saved is a penny earned," he'd blurt suddenly, out of the blue, and all the other delegates would stop arguing and turn to look at him and then he'd emit a three-foot streamer of drool. Thus did the Founding Fathers hammer out the Constitution, which established a new format under which the government is divided into three equal parts, each with clearly defined powers and responsibilities:

1. The Judicial Branch wears robes and sustains objections.

2. The Executive Branch gets on and off helicopters and undergoes routine physical examinations.

3. The Legislative Branch is divided into two bodies:

a. Young urban legislators running for president and

b. Deceased rural legislators declaring National Pumice Week.

This system has served us well, but we need to ask: Can we preserve it, while adapting it to meet the ever-changing challenges of the future? That, indeed, is a question I want you each to write 1,000 words about. And nobody leaves this classroom until I find out who put the tapeworm in my grade book.