SIR Curtly Ambrose had a simple message for dozens of students at the Cascadia Hotel in St Ann’s yesterday — pursue your full education and work hard to achieve your dreams.

The legendary West Indies fast bowler was making the feature address at the opening of the 16th Secondary Schools Leadership Symposium, for which the theme was “Think big, start small.” The annual event, conceived and organised by “The Sports Desk,” seeks to encourage purpose and excellence in the young people of the nation while they are still attending school.

Throughout his brief address, Ambrose frequently expressed his regret that he did not complete his secondary education. Asked by one student what she should do, as her parents kept pressing her to work hard at school, the six-foot-eight Antiguan replied that she ought do just that, and to please her mother, who he surmised was only seeking her (the student’s) interest.

“Get yourself a proper education,” he insisted, “education, to me, is key to success.”

Ambrose explained that he quit school in Third Form because his father, who resided in the United States, was “not close” to them, and he figured that he (Curtly) needed to get a job and help his mother and six siblings.

Back then, he implied, one could obtain gainful employment with limited education. “It’s not so today,” Ambrose admonished his audience. “You need to go all out to get that education.”

Speaking about the pursuit of excellence, Sir Curtly reflected on his career, reminding the audience that he had never wanted to play cricket.

“But,” he added, “my driving force is I’m a very, very proud man, and everything I do, I want to be the best.” Ambrose said that so it was that four years after he started playing club cricket in Antigua, he was selected for the West Indies in 1988. In 98 Tests, he took 405 wickets at a cost of 8,501 runs.

“I knew they were the best team in the world,” he explained, “and I never wanted to be the weak link. My pride wouldn’t allow me to be second-best.”

Relating his advice to the topic, “think big, start small,” he said everything starts with a dream. “You set yourself goals,” he told his attentive listeners, “and you work extremely hard to achieve those goals. It’s not going to be easy, but if you’re committed, and you make sacrifices and you believe in what you’re doing, at the end of the day you will make it.”

He also advised them to “use negative comments as inspiration” and transform them into positives. “There’s nothing sweeter than proving people wrong.”

As he wound up his address, Ambrose had a parting word of advice that betrayed the gentle side of the man regarded in his time as one of the world’s most fearsome fast bowlers: “When you finally get to the top, always be willing to lend a helping hand to those who are still on the path.”

Ambrose just recently returned from the Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, where he was the West Indies’ bowling coach. He was originally invited by Guardian Sports Editor Valentino Singh to speak last year, but could not attend. The four-day symposium ends on Thursday.