The beauty of going to Independence High School back in the ‘80s was that it was the finest school in the area, period. In fact, I would argue that we were the finest public school in Northern California. At the time, our facilities were unmatched. We had three libraries — including a public library, an intimidating football stadium, a large- and small gym, Olympic-sized pools, diving platforms, a theater, auto shop, and a planetarium.
After my exhausting and trying freshman year at Branham High School, I was able to convince my dad to allow me to join my friends back in the east side. While most of my friends were at Mt. Pleasant and Silver Creek high schools, the buzz about IHS was so intense that I decided to enroll there. I had neither seen nor ever set foot on the enormous campus (it’s larger than Disneyland).
Of course, like any school, state-of-the-art facilities mean absolutely nothing without great students (IHS had roughly 4,000). We had our share of stellar athletes. How many people can say that they went to school with five All Americans in the span of three years? But while those student-athletes garnered a lot of deserved attention, the people I admired most were just like you and me. Well, sort of.
I met the student pictured here, Neil Kaplan, during our final year in a required course for seniors: psychology and government. Other than noticing how bright and outspoken he was, there was nothing about him that I regarded as extraordinary.
That would change.
The first sign of his generosity came by way of a lift. I lived very far from campus, and he kindly offered to drive me home. I still remember listening to him sing along to Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire.”
The second sign came by way of a character.
At some point in the year, we were tasked with putting on a mock trial in our psychology class. Students reluctantly accepted roles, and performed pretty poorly during the trial. Each person was unprepared, terrified, or both. Neil was the attorney.
I recall being relatively bored with the entire performance, and then … Neil unleashed a performance that was unforgettable. The entire class was stunned. I don’t think any of us knew just how talented he was until that moment. For me, he was Atticus Finch and Perry Mason rolled into one.
Of course, Neil’s performances in class and in the school’s theater productions were just the beginning. Following high school, he took his talents to USC, and hasn’t stopped since. He has thrilled and touched family, friends, and fans for more than 20 years.
In June of last year, he was interviewed by a columnist from the Bay Area News Group (San Jose Mercury News). Neil said, “The great thing about voice acting is that it doesn’t matter what you look like. If you’re tall, you can play a short person. If you’re 100 years old, you can play a teenager. If you can play it, you can play it.”
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve known Neil since we were both teenagers at Independence, and since then I’ve noticed several instances of his strength of character — both in talent and in life. He’s right, if you’re 100 years old, and as talented as he is, you can play a teenager. And if you’re 50 — like he turned today — you can celebrate … like The Boss!
Congratulations on this monumental day, my friend.