It is amazing how some people make such a profound impact upon us. One could argue that they are not accidental, but, if you would permit me to say, an indication of divine grace, or in musical terms, they are grace notes of our collective experiences.

Bob Gaudino did not simply engage me in terms of my understanding of international, universal, or dare I say, cosmic reality. But he also assisted me, accompanied me (and so many others) in operating in the realm of iconoclastic smashing the perceptions that held us bound by an ugly-American consciousness that prevented us from seeing in this world of grand diversity…

It is very difficult as Americans, bona fide Americans, to…see the integrity in other cultures, in other walks of life, in other perspectives that we do not share as our own. We must remember too that we have developed lenses across our eyes that thicken through our grown-up years. (Interestingly enough Bob Gaudino told us not so much to “grow up” as to “grow down.”)

I liken the experience of education of Bob Gaudino to be that of, forgive me, being a Baptist preacher, the baptismal ritual that we generate in our churches. Every fourth Sunday at 10:15 a.m. Memorial Baptist Church, where I have been privileged to pastor for the last 23 years, we do some things that represent life-transforming opportunity. Baptism in the Baptist Church is not an anointing, it is not a sprinkling, it is not a zap–it is called immersion. The total person is immersed underwater and kept down long enough to feel the sense of uncomfortability, to feel the sense that the old person has died. Brought up from the water it becomes an experience of being drenched but not drowned, the opportunity to walk in newness of life.

This is the experience that Bob Gaudino helped me to understand — that experiential education is really baptismal education. It is to be immersed in the experiences of the Other. It is to be exposed to the challenges of the ugly and the beautiful, where we find ourselves far away from home. It is the ability to discern in the diversity of others an opportunity to learn from them, to share with them, to celebrate with them, to pray with them, and yes, to play with them…

But mind you, in all baptismal experiences it can never happen with the individual baptizing him or herself. There needs to be a mentor, there needs to be a loving Other who can guide us through the process lest we drown. And what made Bob Gaudino’s teaching so powerful, so exacting and so life threatening was precisely the presence of Bob Gaudino there with you, for you.

Preston Washington Convocation Speech

Rev. Preston Washington '69, at the September 1999 Williams College convocation marking the 25th anniversary of Robert Gaudino’s death, in a speech delivered for him by then-Pres. Hank Payne, because he was ill. Renowned as a founder of the Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement and the leader of campaigns to build housing and combat AIDS in Harlem – and for inviting European tourists to hear gospel music in his church – Washington died of heart failure four years later, at 54