Every liberal arts major has heard the question at least once: "What are you going to do with a degree in that?"
"At the end of the day," Gilchrist recalled of the 2013 "hire him" moment that launched his current career chapter, "I got this job pretty much because I speak French."
His global experience as a U.S. Army attorney, estate planner and trial lawyer in the Judge Advocate General's Corps didn't hurt. But the French was the clincher. The Florida real estate market is hot with francophones these days. Who knew? Gilchrist's mentors at Cohen, Ruiz P.A. immediately encouraged him to get involved in Miami's ex-pat francophone community.
The first call he made was to his Davidson mentor, Professor of French and Francophone Studies Homer Sutton. Soon Gilchrist connected with the French-American Chamber of Commerce in Miami and had made the acquaintance of French attorneys, accountants, the French consul general in Miami and even the ambassador.
Of course, Gilchrist's is not just any old French degree. It's a Davidson degree.
The first time Gilchrist recognized the full value of his education as seen through the eyes of the rest of the world was in law school at the University of Florida; the second time was in his first full-time job, as a trial attorney with the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's (JAG) Corps.
"Even law school was a lot easier than Davidson!" he joked. "JAG gave me challenging cases because they knew I went to Davidson."
Gilchrist's Davidson education was made possible by a Davidson ROTC scholarship that was competitive with his collegiate offer from the U.S. Naval Academy. He never looked back.
"It felt like coming home," Gilchrist, recalling his first campus visit. Admission staff mailed him a Wildcats baseball cap after the visit. "I was all in."
"I had a blast," he said, "being integrated with French people, dating a French girl, traveling with my roommate Jonathan Crooms '04.... And it's not just France. Davidson has a true relationship with francophone culture."
Gilchrist's full French immersion ranged from volunteering at the soup kitchen in Tours to discothèque-hopping in the evenings.
"Even today, you look at my iPod and it's all francophone music," he said. "I love French Zouk music, which is often played on the radio in Miami."
Davidson also taught Gilchrist what he terms "the rigors of reading."
"On the desk behind me right now," he said, "there are 300 pages I need to go through. Because of Davidson, I know how to prioritize, focus, think critically and make a conclusion, one way or another, and defend it.
"That's what a Davidson education does for you, it opens your eyes to the world. And it gives you a certain confidence, too.
"And I can't say enough how important the French Department has been in my professional and personal life. Another call I am going to make soon is to Prof. Slawy-Sutton regarding her advice on francophone baby names, as my wife and I are expecting our second child in February!"