An example of sentence structure affecting semantic interpretation is via word order: "The cat bit the dog" has a different interpretation (refers to a different real-world situation) than "The dog bit the cat". Another example is that "Sharp knives and nails" is ambiguous, in identifying a subset of knives which are sharp, plus any nails, vs. identifying a subset of knives which are sharp plus a subset of nails which are sharp. However, "nails and sharp knives" only means a subset of knives which are sharp, plus any nails. Similarly "He kicked me like a mule" could mean either "He kicked me like he would kick a mule" or "He kicked me like a mule would kick me" (i.e. "like a mule" can refer to either the subject or object (syntactic) function).
The problem you're facing is that semantics is not just concerned with the meanings of individual words, so your friend is wrong on that point. Compositional semantics is the study of how interpretations are assigned to word combinations (clauses, sentences). But, semantics is not concerned with whether adjectives come before nouns of after; whether verbs go before objects or after; with whether you can say "This violin is easy for John to play" or "*John is easy to play this violin" (AFAIK all native English speakers reject the second). Those are the concerns of syntax.
A simple characterization of the difference is that syntax is about the grammatical system for combining words, and semantics is about assigning an interpretation to any utterance.