November 26, 2014

Elyria
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LSU coach and EHS graduate Les Miles is surprise commencement speaker

ELYRIA — In a surprise appearance, Elyria native and Louisiana State University football coach Les Miles urged graduates of Elyria High School on Saturday to find their own goals and live life with passion.

“You’ve got to live life like someone’s stealing it from you,” said Miles, who was in town for his 40th high school reunion. “Do it with passion.”

Les Miles was a surprise guest speaker at Elyria High School's commencement Saturday.

Les Miles was a surprise guest speaker at Elyria High School's commencement Saturday.

Miles said some of the 430 graduates might be good at sports and some at chemistry, and that a student who is good at chemistry might become a doctor some day.

The important thing is to love what you do, said Miles, who guided his Bayou Bengals to a 13-0 record last year, a No. 1 ranking and a date with Alabama in the national title game.

“The reason you are allowed to have success is because someone believes in you and starts you on your way,” said Miles, who was named Associated Press Coach of the Year in 2011 and earns $3.8 million a year.

“If you’re going to work at a gas station, get there early and get it right,” Miles said.

He was touring the new $70 million Elyria High School on Saturday with some of his old football buddies when the topic of speaking at graduation came up, according to Elyria Schools Superintendent Paul Rigda.

Miles suggested to Principal Thomas Jama that he “say a few words” at graduation, Rigda said.

“It was a big surprise,” Rigda said afterwards. “It was great.”

Miles joked that his old girlfriends still looked really good — just a little older — and he told the crowd of several thousand people that Elyria was a great place to grow up.

He urged the 164th graduating class of Elyria High School to “operate with swagger.”

“Swagger really means style,” Miles said. “I’ve never met an Elyria High graduate who didn’t have style.”

Graduation was held in the football stadium where Miles, an all-state lineman, first made his mark on a stellar 1971 team. While at Elyria High, he also lettered in baseball and wrestling.

Other speakers included Rigda, who said students were graduating from the most modern high school building in the state.

He gave students some tips for a chance at a better life that will make them feel better about themselves.

“Treat everyone you meet with respect, no matter what their station in life,” Rigda said.

He also suggested that students turn off their phones for an entire day and “have several face-to-face encounters.”

Rigda also urged the grads to trust their own instincts, saying, “Think long, think wrong — trust your gut.”

Quoting hockey great Wayne Gretzky, Rigda said, “You will miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”

Graduating senior Spencer Christian Smith talked about being the first class to graduate from the gorgeous new school.

He said its beacon, the historic Washington Building, brings home the fact that Elyria had the first public high school west of the Allegheny Mountains.

“The renovated building has the charm and history of the past but the feeling of a new high school,” Smith said.

Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or cleise@chroniclet.com.