The pride of McBride

Caputo using his small-town experiences to do big things

Sept. 20, 2019

School District No. 57 alumnus Emilio Caputo is thankful for his small-town education.

When Caputo looks back on his time at McBride Centennial Elementary School and McBride Secondary School, he admits there were some disadvantages. But, the Class of 2019 University of Northern British Columbia valedictorian is also cognizant of the fact that attending school in a rural setting afforded him benefits he may not have gotten in a more populous centre.

“I didn’t realize how important it was and how unique it was in McBride until I went to UNBC where I saw people from Vancouver and places like that where they didn’t really know their teachers,” said Caputo, whose 2014 high school graduation class had 20 people in it. “My teachers really took an interest in me, as a person but also as a future academic so they would foster that knowledge. My decision to go to university was partially winning a scholarship but a large part of it too was people telling me that’s where I needed to be.”

Caputo, now 23, was the top academic student in his McBride Secondary grad class, a distinction that earned him the opportunity to attend UNBC tuition-free as a UNBC Scholar. Long before he walked through the doors into his first university lecture though, many of his teachers in McBride helped put him on the path to higher education. At McBride Centennial Elementary, there were people like Stan Keim, who taught a Grade 6-7 class and recognized the type of journey Caputo was capable of taking.

“He was one of the first teachers who saw potential (in me) so he really helped me foster that, and a love of education and really just being a better person,” Caputo said. “So my community service and all those sorts of things I think came from him. I ended up winning the Principal’s Award (in Grade 7) and I think in large part because of his support.”

At McBride Secondary, Caputo was shaped by teachers like Trish Thompson, Ingrid Stengler and Jill Howard.

“I took Law 12 with Mrs. Thompson and she really pushed me in the direction of law and legal studies and that’s where I may end up, law school,” said Caputo, who graduated with honours from UNBC with a Bachelor of Arts degree as a History major and a Philosophy and Political Science minor. “She helped me set up a mentorship –  she got me a really great mentor here in Prince George who is a lawyer. It’s hard to describe the level of support she gave me. The level of support was just immense, and on a personal level too. She was just there as like a friend. She really cared, she really wanted to see me succeed, and I’ve had a few teachers like that.

“Ms. Stengler, she was another really good one,” Caputo continued. “She taught History 12, that was the class I took with her, and I ended up taking History in university and fell in love with the program. I think she taught me a lot about the value of history in modern society. We looked at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so I had background in that that no one else had when I went to university, which was incredible.

“Mrs. Howard was another really great one. She was a Science teacher who did a lot of different things – Psychology, things like that. I love art and she allowed me to integrate that as part of my assignments – just that really creative method of learning and these are things you don’t really get in larger schools where you’re just a number. Here, where she knows my talents and she knows me as a person and knows what I like and what I dislike, she allows me to integrate that into my studies and so I learn in a very different and much more immersive and unique way. These are things that you only get when you work with a class of 10 people.”

Caputo finished his Grade 12 year with a high-A average (about 97 per cent). Soon after his arrival at UNBC’s Prince George campus, he started to build a reputation as a student leader and passionate historian with a penchant for getting involved in the university community. He joined the Northern Historical Student Society and helped launch a Northern Historical Conference. Later in his university career, Caputo served as a UNBC Student Senator, the undergraduate representative for the History department and as a UNBC Research Ambassador. In the latter role, he helped promote UNBC undergraduate research opportunities for university and high school students.

Meanwhile, in the broader Prince George community, Caputo became a trustee on the board of the Prince George Public Library and even did some volunteer work for Prince George city council. He’s a firm believer in saying ‘yes’ to opportunities and one of his next adventures will take him to Victoria, where he will be doing an internship at the B.C. Legislative Assembly starting in January 2020.

No matter his destination after that, Caputo will always value his rural roots and his Northern education – elementary, secondary and post-secondary.

“The North is a land of opportunity,” he said. “When you come to places like this that are perhaps less populated or people think that the opportunities are fewer because there aren’t as many people and there isn’t as much funding – those sorts of things – it means that there’s an opportunity for you to make something of it. And I think that’s something I learned from McBride. I was able to take (opportunities) and run with them.

“I think about the Northern Historical Conference. How (successfully) do you think I could have done that at a larger university? Would I have been able to talk to the faculty on a personal level? Would they have given me $2,500 to run with and just do what I wanted with? Those sorts of things. It’s just so incredible to be able to live in a small, personable environment.”