Picture MIT in the 1980s: It’s chilly and gray, with a brisk wind coming off the Charles River. In the distance, from across the Harvard Bridge, comes a young student headed to class. He’s dressed in a tie-dyed toga, seemingly oblivious to the cold. To complete the look, he’s strumming an unplugged electric guitar and smiling.
Sometimes I wore a robe instead of a toga,” he remembers. “I mean, I had to be comfortable!
Today, Peter Wolfe '91 has replaced his toga with a baseball cap and sandals but continues the tradition regularly. Carrying a portable amp and headphones, so he can listen to himself, Wolfe plays on his walk from Boston’s North Station to his Congress Street office and on the way home—and sometimes on the commuter rail if he gets the space. “Don’t kill people with the guitar, is my motto,” he says.
Wolfe originally started the routine after his brother gifted him an old guitar and he taught himself to play. The routine began, he says, because his walk across the river from Pi Lambda Phi was chilly and he needed a distraction. “Sometimes I wore a robe instead of a toga,” he remembers. “I mean, I had to be comfortable!”
His classmates usually just gawked at him, he recalls and now, commuters stop and stare, as people did all those decades ago. Most avoid eye contact, and since he can’t hear them anyway, he just jams away to the Grateful Dead and Eric Clapton. Wolfe’s routine was even featured in The Boston Globe.
Of course, the publicity isn’t why he does it. The perambulating guitar playing is just one example of many activities in his life that stem from his time at MIT.
“I’ve used everything I learned at MIT,” he says. He rattles off a list. Physics and geometry have helped him restore old houses he’s lived in. He built an 8-foot-tall slingshot to help his two girls practice softball. He uses chemistry to make his own maple syrup. He did Korean Karate Club and is now a third-degree black belt in jujitsu.
Even his choice of majors reflects his wide-ranging curiosity: He started out in biology, switched to electrical engineering, then finally ended up in management. “I even think I was a math major for a week,” he says.
All told, it took him six years to graduate, and he’s putting all of his education to good use. Wolfe uses lessons from all of the fields he dabbled in, previously as a management consultant to clients in a variety of industries, including pharma and medical. Today, as cofounder of telecom company Comlinkdata, he uses big data to help clients understand and react to trends in the telecom industry.
And now he can add one more thing to his list of experiences: Wolfe will take guitar lessons for the very first time. Because of The Boston Globe article, Berklee’s music department offered him a free class. “I’m excited—I’m a kinesthetic learner. There’s all kinds of theory and practical knowledge I don't know, so this will connect a lot of the dots for me.”
“Plus, isn’t it great to have homework again?”