For Michael Jurist (SFS ’07), Hilton Head Island was “the best place in the world.”
Late last month, the Jurist family headed to its South Carolina beach house for one final vacation before Jurist departed for London to attend a six-week orientation for his new job with Deutsche Bank. Jurist, according to his parents, loved visiting Hilton Head, especially running on its many trails, water skiing, cycling and watching sunsets.
But less than three months after receiving his Georgetown diploma, Jurist died on the evening of July 30, when a bolt of lightning struck him and his mother as they were walking along the island’s South Beach. His mother, Vesna, sustained less serious injuries and has since recovered.
“It was a lovely, sunny day,” she said, until ominous clouds soon overtook what had been a clear sky. She and her son turned around to head back to their starting point about two miles away when they noticed stormy clouds in the distance. Rain had not yet started to fall, but Vesna Jurist said she and her son saw a lightning bolt “football fields away.”
The last thing they said to each other was, “Let’s get off the beach.” Both Jurist and his mother were struck by lightning almost immediately after.
Jurist’s mother awoke sometime later, finding her son unconscious. She called for help, and on the mostly deserted beach, she eventually managed to flag down a patrol boat, which radioed for help.
Two lifeguards performed CPR on Jurist, and medics tried to revive him as they took him to the Hilton Head Regional Medical Center in an ambulance. Doctors soon reported that Jurist died instantly upon being struck. He was 22 years old.
Jurist was laid to rest in a private ceremony on Aug. 2 at the ount Pleasant Cemetery near the family’s home in Toronto. A public memorial service was held on Tuesday at Jurist’s high school in Toronto, and Campus Ministry plans to organize a memorial service on campus.
Jurist’s parents expressed their appreciation of the Georgetown community’s outpouring of compassion. His father Paul marveled that his son “wasn’t just a number that graduated.”.
After hearing many kind comments about his son from friends, he proudly raved, “We knew [Michael] was a good kid, but we didn’t know he touched so many people.”
A Hoya at Heart
Jurist’s parents said that their son blossomed into the mature, confident and active man that he was during his four years at Georgetown. Whenever he telephoned them from school, they said, his heavy breathing signaled he was in transit, moving from one of his activities to another.
Jurist turned down undergraduate acceptances to attend Harvard and Duke Universities to attend Georgetown, and, according to his mother, he loved the Hilltop from the moment he stepped foot on campus.
From working at Vital Vittles to leading Georgetown’s club tennis team, Jurist’s friends and family remember him as a very involved and vibrant member of the Georgetown community. He graduated with a degree in international politics and a Certificate in European studies, and was also inducted into the National French Honor Society and the National History Honor Society.
His father described Jurist’s final year at Georgetown as particularly special because he was able to experience the celebrations of the Final Four. Jurist traveled to Atlanta alongside hundreds of other student to cheer on the men’s basketball team.
Jurist aspired to attend law school later in life, having already performed well on the LSAT. His father said that Jurist was a man in motion – “the type of man who always had a plan, a backup plan, [and] a forward plan.”
Jurist made a name for himself as the chair of the Lecture Fund last year, as members of the organization said that he promoted acceptance and tolerance as the group’s leader by inviting many diverse speakers to campus.
“As our chair, [Jurist] kept reminding us that small and unassuming events could most often be the most meaningful,” Erica Lim (SFS ’10), a Lecture Fund member, said. “If an event could connect with five people rather than bore 500, it was a success.”
Jurist’s leadership was tested after the Lecture Fund sponsored a talk by Minuteman Civil Defense Corps Co-founder Chris Simcox in the fall. The decision sparked a heated campus debate and led dozens to protest in Red Square.
Members of the Lecture Fund say that Jurist dealt with the controversy gracefully, even inviting two local immigration experts to speak on campus three months later. Jurist wrote a letter to THE HOYA on Nov. 3, 2006, defending the Lecture Fund’s decision to invite Simcox to campus and thanking both the people who attended the event and those who participated in its protest.
Rick Cella (COL ’08), one of Jurist’s close friends, said that Jurist was visibly bothered throughout the controversy, but not because of the personal criticism he received. Rather, Cella held that Jurist’s main concern was that he had “inadvertently and truly offended any citizens of the Georgetown community.”
“He loved Georgetown, and his sole motivation as leader of the Lecture Fund was to help improve the Georgetown community,” Cella said.
Lim remembered Jurist as a personable, humble leader.
“I can say for a fact that every single person in Lecture Fund respected Mike deeply for his professionalism, leadership skills and focus.”
`A People Person’
Jurist’s parents described him as a compassionate, genuine and caring man who followed his own path, tried to do what was right and always looked out for his friends. They joked that they sometimes worried that their son would not succeed because he was “too nice,” but added that his warm personality only proved to be a tremendous asset.
Jurist’s girlfriend, Carolina Brochado (SFS ’07), who met Jurist at The Tombs (“As good Hoyas would,” she joked), remembered Jurist as “extremely comfortable in who he was, confident, fun, witty, caring, a true gentleman and incredibly intelligent.” She said she hopes that he will be remembered as “a great leader and a team player” and as “a smart, generous, fun Hoya.”
And Cella said that Jurist was a “a people person,” and that Jurist was one of the most modest and genuinely friendly people he had ever met.
“Whenever I went to a place like The Tombs with Mike on a busy night, it would be impossible to walk over to a table without at least five people grabbing him to say `hello,'” he recalled.
Chanakya Sethi, who graduated from high school with Jurist, said he was shocked to hear of his classmate’s death. “I can only say good things about Mike,” he said. “He was an incredibly decent human being whom others looked up to.”
Dozens of students have already expressed their warm remembrances of Jurist on his Facebook profile. “You were an inspiration to every person you met, myself very much included,” wrote Eric Turri (MSB ’06). “You had it all going for you, you were one hell of a tennis player, and you even got into Harvard…but I’ll remember you most for being a sincere, easy-going and generous friend.”
Jurist’s parents said that they hope to stay connected to Georgetown through their son. One way they will do so is by setting up the Michael Jurist Trust Fund for future Georgetown students.
But family and friends said that they will most remember Jurist for his fun-loving spirit and his thirst for knowledge. Jurist loved traveling, politics, watching “Lost” and listening to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. All agreed that he lived his life with tremendous vigor and compassion.
“Mike was anything but complacent,” Cella said. “He was always going.”