GW English Alums on the Move: LTJG Courtney Wang, “English Gives You a Disciplined Imagination”

Courtney Wang (BA, ’07),
second from left

Lieutenant Junior Grade Courtney Wang, US Navy, has been deployed to conduct counter piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and in the Somali Basin; her work as a Surface Warfare Officer has taught her how to drive and fight warships and has taken her all over the world.  Now stationed in San Diego during her ship’s extended maintenance period, Courtney reflected recently on her English major at GW (she graduated in 2007) and its connection to her 2011 Navy commission.

  “On his blog, Professor Jeffrey Cohen once wrote about how English is one of the few intellectual subjects whose pursuit is pure understanding, like philosophy or math.  English for me was about learning how to appreciate beauty.  And in some respects, my pull toward the Navy had similar motives.  As a child, I read Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea countless times, and I was drawn to naval poetry like ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.’ The Navy appealed to me as an aesthete and a romantic scientist:  it is the art of ship driving, and the science of naval warfare.  I’m a mariner now.”

  Courtney’s academic background in English has also helped her adjust to the enormous government organization of which she’s now part.  “The scope and depth of the Navy’s missions and chasmic obstacles can be unfathomably difficult to plumb sometimes,” she says, “but the English major gives you the long perspective that enables you to be part of real change.  English gives you a disciplined imagination which lets you think with long hard determination about all kinds of problems, macro and micro.  English also trains you in subtext, and there are subtexts everywhere in the Navy.”

  There are more immediate advantages to Courtney’s English major as well.  “My writing skills have been put to work by people many ranks above me.”

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