John David Fernandez, a Columbia sophomore known as JD to friends, died of pneumonia Saturday night, University officials confirmed Sunday.
Fernandez, a wheelchair user, was vice president of the Columbia University Libertarians and was known on campus for his political convictions and his continual optimism.
He contributed to the Ludwig von Mises Institute website, which works on “advancing the scholarship of liberty” in the tradition of the Austrian school of economic thought.
“I know we are united in mourning the loss of such a promising and inspiring member of our community,” Dean of Student Affairs Kevin Shollenberger wrote in a University statement Sunday night.
“We will provide details regarding a funeral and memorial services planned to remember and honor David as they become available.”
Fernandez’s classmates, friends, and colleagues spoke of his inspiring nature and intellect.
Syed Hossain, CC ’12 and a fellow member of the Libertarians, said he had been best friends with Fernandez since they went to high school together in Queens.
“I think he would want me to describe him this way: extremely political, a libertarian who was always against the government, always for the people, always wanted to end the Fed, always wanted a free market, who wanted to legalize marijuana just out of principle, who wants to be a free person,” Hossain said. “Back when Xanga was popular, he wrote this: ‘Here lies John David, a free man.’”
Stephan Vincenzo, CC ’12, said that he and Fernandez had been friends for two years, first connecting online over their early decision acceptances and family ties to the same city in Colombia.
“The first party I ever threw at Columbia was the Thursday of orientation. He … showed up in a special car and an hour early. He served as a huge inspiration to me—I never heard him complain once,” Vincenzo said.
He added, “I can’t help but also be a bit happy, because he was such a huge advocate for liberty, and now he is liberated.”
Casey Smith-Dube, a high school classmate of Fernandez and a sophomore at SUNY Albany, wrote in a Facebook message to Spectator, “I looked at David as a warm soul. ... He will be missed by everyone who knew him, whether they knew him well or not,” she said.
Smith-Dube added that Fernandez participated in SING, an inter-grade singing, dancing, and acting competition at their high school. Their grade won two years in a row—mostly due to Fernandez’s script and dedication, she said.
Fernandez invited CJ Maloney, a blogger who wrote for the Mises Institute, to speak at a Libertarians event at Columbia in October 2009.
“He was a whirlwind of energy confined to a wheelchair,” Maloney wrote in an e-mail. While Maloney was at Columbia, Fernandez told him that economist Murray Rothbard had worked on papers in Butler Library.
“Every time I’m on the grounds of Columbia, I’ll think of JD … and wonder if we might have just lost someone who could have been a Rothbard,” Maloney said.
In the summer of 2009, Fernandez attended Mises University, a week-long program sponsored by the Mises Institute.
Eric Staib, a senior at the University of Oklahoma, attended Mises University with Fernandez. He wrote that other alumni of the program are being contacted to raise money to create an award in his name.
“JD was someone who … had been compared to some of the intellectual heroes of young libertarians,” Staib said.
Fernandez was planning to major in economics and philosophy. On his personal blog, “The Liberty Review,” he described himself as “a stormtrooper of the Yankee Universe and a classic liberal of the Misesian strand.”
He also wrote three submissions for Spectator on the proposed campus smoking ban, same-sex marriage, and the role of government, respectively.
Jeffrey Tucker, editorial vice president of the Mises Institute, wrote in an e-mail, “He touched many lives, urging people to read more, work harder, and think of ever-higher ideals. In the inspiration he provided others he is immortal, because what he believed in and what he did during his too-short life continues to live on.”