The English-Speaking Union

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Robert B. Semple

Robert B. Semple lives in New York City and attended the SSE program in 1954-55 at Wellington College. After SSE, he graduated from Yale, and then later received his master's degree in history from Berkeley. After running the student newspaper at Yale, Semple worked for over 50 years at The New York Times. He is known for his editorials on environmental issues, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1996. He was also a White House correspondent during Nixon's first term. Semple served as the London bureau chief for the New York Times for 3 years as well. He is very passionate about writing and ensuring the survival of written media. Semple was a prefect, or dormitory leader, during his time in the SSE program.

Wellington College building in the 1950s

The dormitoritories were all-boys and placed a high emphasis on discipline, even with minor misbehaviors. He was also immersed in an atmosphere of military readiness because of the aftermath of WWII. Semple's supervisors did not think that he, as an American, could take part in the military practice activities, so they let him go to London once a week during these classes: "The idea was that I would educate myself at London and improve my cultural horizons, lift my cultural horizons. It was actually a wonderful afternoon off, and they trusted me."

At Wellington, Semple said he enjoyed not having to burn himself out doing schoolwork, since he had already been accepted into Yale for the following year, and could therefore pursue his own interests. It was the "first pressure-free academic year I ever had." Semple is nostalgic for the cheap cost of his school break vacations, which he managed for the whole year's worth on just $800 – including skiing in Austria, visiting Spain, and travelling in the UK. His travels were unforgettable: "I was just your classic little narrow-minded American prep school boy. And I saw some of the world for the first time in my life, and learned to get along with people in a somewhat different culture … it was certainly a life-broadening experience."

Thank you to Robert B. Semple Jr. for sharing your story with us at the ESU. We are inspired by your experiences and look forward to hearing more from our alumni!