Dr. Damián J. Fernández was installed as Warren Wilson College’s 10th president on Friday, September 29, in the standing-room-only campus chapel.
Fernández, who joined Warren Wilson on June 1, 2023, is the college’s first Latino president. A Cuban immigrant who grew up in Puerto Rico and a first-generation college student, Fernández came to Warren Wilson with more than 30 years of experience in teaching and leadership positions at both private and public institutions.
The inauguration ceremony paid tribute to his roots and the history of the College, integrating music from the Appalachian and Cuban traditions. In his inaugural address, Fernández connected personal stories with Warren Wilson’s collective story. He told the story of his abuela, who grew up in Cuba during the Spanish-Cuban war. The war began in 1895, the year after Warren Wilson College was founded.
He also spoke about the transformational power of art, telling a story of his experience at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C., and a narrative about Fernández’s favorite work of art by his friend Félix González-Torres.
Inauguration also included remarks from the president’s former graduate student Frances Spiegel, from his son Julián J. Fernández, and from current Warren Wilson student Rosemary Thurber.
The event ended with “Quimbara,” a song by Celia Cruz and Johnny Pacheco that was sung by guest musician Cynthia McDermott. The Warren Wilson College choir, along with faculty and students, salsa danced to the song during the recessional.