Victor Wu '16

Victor Wu profile photoCareer: United States Marine Corps

Thesis Title: Two Concepts of Justice

I don’t want to recite some cliché about how “you can do anything with a Social Studies degree!” or about how great of a decision it was to pick this concentration. I initially chose Social Studies because I, like many Harvard students, wanted to keep as many doors open for as long as I could. I took Social Studies 10 because I liked the idea of a demanding grand survey of classic texts (although at the time, I was unfortunately somewhat less than diligent with readings in practice). I stuck with Social Studies, though, in large part because of the incredibly supportive mentors I found there. Long conversations with Don, my Social Studies 10 tutor and concentration advisor, helped me understand my nascent interests in philosophy and political theory. Through Social Studies, I was able to spend nine months at the University of Cambridge diving deeply into these interests on a largely self-directed course of study. The concentration gave me the freedom—and with it, anxiety—to follow my questions across disciplines, wherever they led.

A few months after graduating, I decided that I wanted to join the military, and the Marine Corps in particular. It was not something that I’d ever seriously considered before then, and it’s difficult to say what direct connection if any Social Studies may have had. By the end of college, though, I’d developed a strong desire for a novel life experience, one that would bring me into close contact with people and perspectives I didn’t often encounter in Cambridge. I was looking for something valuable and challenging in very different ways than Harvard had been. After a comfortable year working as a Research Associate at HBS, I started Officer Candidates School in January 2018 and commissioned as an officer in the Marine Corps that March. Following a year of further training, I am now an artillery officer based out of Hawaii until April 2022.

What I read and explored in Social Studies remains with me, though. In the Marines, I find myself continually thinking about the values that motivate individuals and the ways groups may succeed or fail to act as planned, whether in the daily routines of garrison life or under the pressures of field training and potentially combat. As a recent graduate, I have already revisited with fresh eyes many ideas, themes, and writers that I first encountered in college. But I’d say the most lasting impact has been on how I think more generally. For me, looking back, the challenge and thrill of Social Studies lies in its methodological pluralism. As you may have heard before, college is an opportunity to immerse yourself not just in knowledge, but in ways of knowing. Social Studies invites you to be self-reflective about what it means to study people, values, and institutions, to appreciate both the merits and limitations of different intellectual perspectives. I have found it a supremely difficult endeavor to do well, both in life and study, but a supremely rewarding one nonetheless.