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DePaul alumnus leaves lasting impact

Michael Holmes was an inspiration and friend to many


Stained glass

Michael Holmes, a 2020 graduate, died on April 20 from astrocytoma, a rare and aggressive brain cancer that took his life rapidly only a month after diagnosis. The loss has left his DePaul friends and classmates deeply saddened, yet also firmly resolved to ensure the memorable gifts and spirit he radiated and shared so freely will live on to inspire and benefit others.​

Michael Holmes

In his 22 years of life, Holmes epitomized characteristics many who study and work at DePaul admire and hope to embody. The resolve to work his way through school. A creative and entrepreneurial spirit, and an inclination towards action. The courage and savvy to take on leadership roles among his peers. An intellectual curiosity and capacity that enabled him to learn quickly and teach others. The generosity to serve and mentor colleagues and younger students. The combination of a generous and caring thoughtfulness, and an ability to share joy with others, making him a very good friend.

It is no surprise, then, his sudden death has left a deep hole in the lives of his family and among his classmates, professors and friends from DePaul, particularly in the Driehaus College of Business and the Illinois Zeta Chapter of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. They want Holmes' legacy to continue to live on. In addition to supporting his family, friends hope to honor his legacy through a fundraising effort. This includes directing the proceeds from an upcoming annual fraternity event on Saturday, May 22, to this effort.

According to classmate Eryk Soltys, by the time they met, Holmes had already become a bit of a legend. His fast rise to a leadership position in his fraternity involved helping to steer the organization out of a significant debt and back into good standing as the youngest treasurer in the history of the organization. 

“At just 18 years old, Michael walked into a social circle of 50 or more college men… fast forward a few years and he was universally loved for transforming the fraternity's financial situation, which allowed for more social events and programming to create a more positive experience for all," Soltys says.

Holmes' early rise to such leadership was not only about his financial skills, but about the kind of person he was. 

“You could tell right away he was sharp-minded and intelligent, and had goals for his life and for those he loved," says Nick Darlington, another good friend. "He was also a kind-hearted and loving person, witty, charismatic and loved to connect with people. He was resilient and hard-working. I never saw him not have a job while he was working his way through school, and yet he still achieved good grades."

In fact, Holmes began to taste success in leadership and business ventures even as a high school student. His entrepreneurial idea won a prize, enabling him to start a business converting unsold leftover food at local restaurants into a soil supplement. In addition to gaining valuable business experience, Soltys notes Holmes became well-versed early on in financial markets and derivatives in part after a gift of Disney stock from his grandparents, a place he visited regularly with his family. From a relatively young age, then, he gradually developed a strong interest in investments.  

Holmes' interest and skill in financial markets became immediately evident to one of his professors, Martin Essenburg, senior instructor of finance and executive director of the John L. Keeley Jr. Center for Financial Services. 

“He was a someone who went well beyond just being an excellent student in my classes," Essenburg says. "He also was very interested in giving back to others and started getting involved immediately." 

Together with Essenburg,  Holmes assisted the design and implementation of the Keely Center's Academy program. He was a student coach in the Banking and Credit Analysis course, helping students develop and refine their experiential learning project and case study competition. He later helped open the door to connect DePaul students to his eventual employer, Mazars, while serving as a junior professional mentor in the Keely Academy program to help students understand more about the valuation profession.

Over the past year, Holmes' entrepreneurial skill and his friendship with classmate, Landon Campbell, led them to co-create the podcast, “InTheir20s." The podcast emerged as a pandemic success, highlighted in a recent Chicago Tribune story about Holmes' passing. 

"Everyone has a Michael story, because he was so present to people in many different ways and was so talented," Campbell says. "He cared about people and was very intelligent and inspiring. He loved stories about people, which is why we created the podcast."

In speaking with those who knew him, perhaps nothing remains more evident than the appreciation they have of Holmes as a friend.

“Michael was an unforgettable friend. He knew how to take school and work seriously, while also making time for friends," says Blake Keating, classmate and close friend. "He was always down to hangout, no matter what day it was, even if it meant him working late or on the weekends. He had a great sense of humor. I can't even count the times we laughed so hard we couldn't breathe or started to cry because of some witty remark he made. It didn't matter who we were with, either. He got along with everyone,​ and we always had fun."

Holmes is survived by his parents, Lynne and T.J. Holmes, and an older brother, Timothy, also a DePaul alumnus. Memorial services will be held at an undetermined later date. ​