Courtesy of Robert Lisak via Yale News

Following a battle with cancer, Yale School of Medicine Director of Admissions Damith “Ayaska” Fernando, 35, passed away on Oct. 2. 

Originally from Sri Lanka, Fernando studied mechanical engineering as an undergraduate student in Yale College. Upon graduating in 2008, he dedicated 10 years of service to Yale’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions — climbing the ranks to serve as the inaugural director of science and engineering recruitment. After his appointment as Director of Admissions for the School of Medicine, he received his master’s in electrical engineering from the University in 2018.

Alongside his career and research interests, Fernando was active in the Yale community as a member of the advisory board of the Yale Scientific Magazine and resident fellow for Jonathan Edwards College. A public celebration to honor his life and legacy, originally scheduled for Oct. 29, has been postponed. It will be held in New Haven in the spring, on a date to be decided and announced, according to Fernando’s wife, Elizabeth Quercia.

Those who interacted with Fernando reflected on the support he offered to all members of the community, from academic advice to cheering on the University’s sports teams.

“​​Ayaska was a friend, a faithful JE Fellow, a proud JE alum, and a bright light in every room he entered,” Head of College Mark Saltzman told the Jonathan Edwards College community. “I already miss his strong and confident voice, his immediate and bottomless empathy, his sharp and subtle intelligence, and his willingness to do the needed for others.” 

As a resident fellow, Fernando advised students in the Great Hall, arranged the Paskus Mellon Fellowship dinners for seniors, organized study breaks and remained active in many aspects of campus life.

Saltzman wrote that he was heartbroken over the loss of Fernando, who he called “beloved in all of the Yale communities that he touched.” He encouraged students to “approach the world as Ayaska did” — with energy, enthusiasm and vigor. 

J. Nick Fisk, a doctoral candidate in computational biology and bioinformatics, expressed similar sentiments. He characterized Fernando as charming, resilient, patient and with a strong sense of duty and humor. 

“If the phrase ‘everybody’s friend’ applies to anyone, it would be Ayaska,” Fisk told the News. 

The two met while Fisk was a graduate affiliate and Fernando was a resident fellow. Fisk said that Fernando had “an uncanny ability to know what you needed,” and that there was “nothing quite like” being introduced to someone like Fernando.

One graduate, Yeonsoo Sara Lee ’17, remembered Fernando visiting her high school as an undergraduate admissions officer. She called him a “big reason” that she applied to Yale. 

“He came to visit my High School for a Yale information session as part of the admissions office and spoke so strongly about how much he valued his friendships formed there, and the community that he was a part of,” Lee wrote to the News. “I remember going back to English class after that and just thinking how wonderful it was to interact with him and that I probably would end up applying to Yale.”

Lee said that upon matriculation, Fernando was a friendly face on campus who she’d have occasional meals with, catching up on topics ranging from her family at home and the sports scene. She added that Fernando — who was a well-known sports fan — congratulated her for walking onto the women’s crew team. 

During his time as the School of Medicine’s Director of Admissions, Fernando helped promote inclusivity — his life and legacy setting the tone for future cohorts of students.  

“As Director of Admissions for the School of Medicine, Ayaska advanced the excellence and diversity of our students,” Nancy Brown, Dean of Yale School of Medicine, wrote in an email to the News. “He was instrumental in facilitating input into the revision of our mission statement. Ayaska was one of those rare human beings, who by virtue of his generosity, creativity, and passion for his work and life, made the world a better place every day.”

In its September season opener, the football team held a sign that read: “Team 148 is on Team Ayaska.” 


Update, Oct. 23, the story has been updated to reflect that the celebration of Fernando’s life has been postponed.

Veronica Lee covers breakthrough research for SciTech. She is a sophomore in Branford College majoring in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology.
Sophie Wang is the Publisher of the Yale Daily News. She previously served as a Science and Technology editor and was one of the inaugural Diversity, Equity and Inclusion co-chairs. In her first year, she covered the Yale New Haven Health System and COVID-19. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Sophie is a junior in Berkeley College double majoring in computer science and English.