Another vexing question: Could our hero really have been beaten out for the presidency of the UCLA student body by a cheerleader?  To find out, you’ll have to go back to his early years on the outskirts of L.A., where papa Gaudino collected bags of cash and his grand-folk poured wine over their cereal.  Read on, as we say. Oh, and did our protagonist really lead his B-29 astray during The War and bomb the wrong island? That was among the few tales he told about himself, this man who left his own background a mystery while getting the rest of us to reveal everything about ours. “Being himself endlessly curious about others, I think he would approve of our interest,” one old friend reassures us. But who knows for sure? There are skeptics on that point too.

Those of you who are higher-minded can skip the biographical tidbits in favor of the young Bob Gaudino’s observations from the journal he kept during his schoolboy visit to Europe. “A good voyage with thinking people,” he called it, suggesting a standard for far more than a single trip.

Our own trip leads us eventually to his pioneering experiments in experiential education after he began sensing that traditional book learning did not adequately stir new waves of students. But first you need to go back to when Aristotle’s Ethics and Plato’s Republic worked just fine: meet 1959’s “Nocturnal Council” and imagine yourself upstairs in Mather House, discussing the shadows in the cave with Mr. Gaudino and those earnest young men in coats and ties. Some serious brainpower in that crew—you might even know a couple of the names.

We don’t mean to undersell the students who came later, but you are allowed to wonder whether they were in their right minds, the self-styled “lab rats” who signed up for his Williams-in-India program and wound up swimming with the corpses in the Ganges or fighting off, not very successfully, rabid dogs. Uncomfortable learning, indeed, for poor James Mathieu. But discover what happened when he returned decades later to the same Indian village where he helped dig a well.

Read then about Williams-at-Home, and what a tweak that name alone was, offering college credit for staying AT HOME! Okay, so they were the homes of black families in Georgia, or poor miners in Kentucky, or small farmers in Iowa, the epitome of another Gaudino core concept, confronting “The Other.” Still, you can imagine how traditional academia might have seen that program as a con job. Check out our man’s response after the Williams faculty said not a word, not a peep, when it came up for a vote. Then meet his new crew of student specimens led by crazy John Neikirk, who went chasing after this lovely girl down South, except she had something less lascivious in mind, namely saving his soul; then there he is wallowing in the pig slop in Iowa – and how he hated that farm mother!; then finally he’s morphed into “Casper the Ghost” in Detroit where he screws things up on an auto assembly line. Distinguished Williams College gave this fellow a diploma for that?


Final Note