For two and a half years, Mitchell Kaplan taught English literature at Southridge Senior High School, never really knowing the impact he would leave on his students.
But on Saturday he was greeted by some of his students from the classes of 1983 and 1984 in the courtyard of his Books & Books store in Coral Gables, which he founded 32 years ago.
Kaplan shook hands and hugged former students including a doctor, a teacher, a computer programmers and business people.
“I recognize a lot of them,” he said. “I guess we all aged well.”
The now 58-year-old bookstore owner was humbled to learn that he inspired so many former students in such a short period of time.
“It’s humbling and very meaningful to me for these kids to have felt I made an impact 30 years later,” Kaplan said. “Teaching was wonderful and it taught me so much. I was very fortunate to have a bunch of students that were so well grounded. I predicted they would do well.”
Manuel Martinez, class of 1983, was a sophomore at Southridge when Kaplan was his English literature teacher. Now, 30 years later, he is a Spanish literature professor in Ohio.
“He was such a special teacher,” Martinez said. “He had this rare combination of passion and youthful enthusiasm.”
Kaplan was in his mid-20s when he began teaching and said it was an advantage because he was able to connect with them in a special way. “I wasn’t that far removed from the place they were in,” he said.
Martinez, who travels from Ohio to Miami throughout the year, decided to put this 30-year reunion together after running into Kaplan at Books & Books over the years and having former classmates ask about him frequently.
“His love for literature was deep,” he said. “He had this cultural way of life and we all think of him as an influence.”
A green leather-bound journal was given to Kaplan during the reunion as a gift to him from his former students.
Inside the journal, everyone who was present at the reunion wrote something to Kaplan. Some were memories they shared and others were reasons he inspired them.
“We want to celebrate and remember some of the special times,” Martinez said. “For us, he was one of those special teachers. You know, the type that you see in the movies.”