If you’re a close reader of PAW’s Inbox section, the name Rocky Semmes ’79 may be a familiar one. His wide-ranging correspondence has covered alumni iconoclasts, winning hearts in wartime, and the “old-school patriarchal mentality” of hunting for sport – and that’s just in the last year.
For three decades, writing letters to the editor has been a hobby of sorts for Semmes. He writes about one letter per week, and his submissions have been published in The Washington Post (at least two dozen times), The New Yorker, Discover magazine, Engineering News-Record, and The Washington Times.
“I have a habit of responding to what I read,” Semmes says. “It’s kind of a catharsis. I read something and it ignites something in me. If I write [a letter], I can let go of it.”
An architecture graduate who has worked primarily in the construction field, Semmes reads widely, with a particular fondness for history. (He shares his given name, Raphael Semmes, with a Confederate naval hero in the Civil War.) He’s also “rather opinionated,” an attribute that he believes was passed on by his mother, Carmel, a native of France who lived through the German occupation of Paris. Listening to his mom in lively dinner-table conversations instilled in Semmes a clearer understanding of how hearing different perspectives could help someone’s own views evolve.
Semmes says that while it is “always a treat” to be published, the act of composing a nuanced, informative, or well-argued letter offers its own rewards. “I’ve been the beneficiary of a good education,” he says, “and I enjoy the challenge of writing.”