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Members of the National Guard board an airplane to fly to Washington, DC, to work at the 2021 presidential inauguration.

When most students prepare to start their college journey, one of the first tasks they tackle is move-in. The excitement of arriving at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and settling into a new home is a favorite memory for many Volunteers. But incoming first-year student Nicholas Gilchrist, from Tullahoma, Tennessee, had to quickly change his plans when National Guard duties took precedence over his January move-in date.

Gilchrist was called to serve during President Joe Biden’s inauguration. An email from Gilchrist’s sergeant said his unit had to report in just two days. He was in the early stages of packing for UT and had to rush to find a new pathway. With the help of his parents, academic advisors, and University Housing staff, Gilchrist adjusted his move-in date and made arrangements for his parents to move his belongings on his behalf.

Brandon and Jaclyn Parks move in their son's belongings while he serves with the National Guard in Washington D.C.
Brandon and Jaclyn Parks moved in their son’s belongings while he served with the National Guard in Washington D.C.

New Student Orientation and University Housing partnered to provide Gilchrist with extra orientation materials and UT swag to welcome him to campus.

Hess Hall Director Alyssa Franck explained that University Housing’s efforts were simply a part of their role to ensure that students feel at home. “Our staff really invests in the student experience and makes sure everyone is taken care of no matter the time or day,” she said.

Gilchrist noted that the transition process happened quickly but everyone was very responsive and eager to help. While in DC, his unit was stationed at a Senate building, providing a security detail on the perimeter. Gilchrist worked there for a week before returning to Rocky Top, slightly delayed but ready to begin his first semester of college.

“I’ve always wanted to be in the military since I was a little kid. The reason I picked the National Guard specifically was so I could have the full college experience,” Gilchrist said. “Coming to UT was an easy choice. I absolutely love the campus.”

Nicholas Gilchrist
Nicholas Gilchrist

Gilchrist enlisted in the National Guard in February 2019. Coming from a military family, he’s always had an appreciation for the service, but his long-term goal is to become a psychologist. Life as a college student in the National Guard is fairly normal so far, according to Gilchrist. Aside from drills on the weekends, he spends most of his time focusing on class during the week and exploring all that UT has to offer.

As Gilchrist settles into a busy spring semester, he says he’s thankful for the thoughtfulness of UT staff and the support he’s received from his family. “After I got called in, all I had to do was focus on what I needed to do for the Guard. Everything else was taken care of. That was a big load off,” he said.


Maddie Stephens (865-974-3993,