Damith Ayaska Fernando (widely known as Ayaska), the director of admissions at the Yale School of Medicine and a beloved campus figure at Yale and in the New Haven community, died on Oct. 2 after a courageous battle with cancer. He was 35 years old.
Ayaska left his home country of Sri Lanka for the first time to attend Yale, becoming the first in his family to pursue a college degree. After graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering, he came to realize that his calling was “helping the university that had given so much to [him] to succeed and thrive in the 21st century,” and joined the staff of Yale’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions. From that moment on, Ayaska dedicated his heart and soul to Yale and its educational mission, soon becoming a beloved colleague, mentor, and friend to many.
Quickly rising through the undergraduate admissions office ranks, he ultimately served as the inaugural director of science and engineering recruitment. Under his leadership Yale built new processes and programs, greatly expanding Yale’s efforts to recruit the most talented scientists and engineers in the world.
Most recently he served as the director of admissions at the Yale School of Medicine, where he helped lead strategic and technological improvements to admissions processes and initiated outreach efforts to attract creative and compassionate future physicians from across the country and around the world.
Ayaska was known in Sri Lanka and throughout Yale for his sharp mind, his analytic prowess, and especially for his charismatic, warm, and engaging personality. Together with his wife Liz, he was a devoted resident fellow of Yale’s Jonathan Edwards College (JE). In JE, there was not a role Ayaska didn’t play; he advised students, arranged dinners for seniors, played ping pong in the Buttery, convened happy hours and study breaks, and attended fellows events. His extensive knowledge and love of food and wine, along with his outgoing personality, enlivened every gathering.
A man for all seasons, he could tickle the ivories, emcee an event with charm and class, fix any computer glitch, or give aid, comfort, and support in any emergency. As an enthusiastic athlete Ayaska helped lead JE to three consecutive intramural championships, the first trifecta in its history.
During his time at Yale, Ayaska also became the de-facto older brother to fellow Sri Lankan students, enthusiastically leaning in at every turn to fill in the gaps for those far from home. He loved hiking and exploring the national parks in Sri Lanka and in the U.S., often spotting famously elusive wildlife with his “eagle eye” vision.
He was also a devoted Yale sports fan. In his honor, this year’s football team (which recently kicked off its 148th season) held a sign during its season opener: “Team 148 is on Team Ayaska.” He could be found in the first row of every home basketball game, loudly and vigorously cheering the Bulldogs.
In addition to his wife, Liz Quercia, Fernando leaves his parents, Anura and Damayanthi Fernando, and his sister, Piyumi Fernando. The celebration of Ayaska's life scheduled for October 29, has been postponed. It will be in held in New Haven in the spring on a date to be decided and announced.
In lieu of flowers, the family invites you to help support the future as passionately as Ayaska did. Gifts can be made to FIRST at 200 Bedford Street, Manchester, NH 03101 or at https://www.firstinspires.org/donate. Please designate your gift in memory of Ayaska Fernando. The family also encourages you to share memories of Ayaska at http://tiny.cc/in-memory-of-ayaska.
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