I should point out here that there is some negativity expressed towards the administration of a school. That administration has completely turned over since my time at that location and my feelings towards the administration of the past do not reflect upon the current operations of that institution. This page is purely an expression of my own experiences and how I became what I am from an academic viewpoint.
I graduated from Groveport Madison High School in the Columbus, Ohio area in 2004. My entire K-12 experience was at that district and it doesn't have the greatest reputation, mostly due to funding issues. Speaking for myself, the school district wasn't all that bad. I believe, looking back, that the district's administration did a good job of confining the impacts of the low funding to the facilities and other, more manageable, areas. The high school football "stadium" was awful when I was there. The school buildings were showing their age. Our textbooks, depending on the class, were old. Given the topics and material covered in primary education, I still don't understand the handwringing over textbook age. The teachers were, for the most part, excellent and that is what was most important.
When I tried to defend my district to the elitists of other districts, they would claim I wasn't suffering the negative effects because I was smarter and could fill in the gaps. That's not true; the internet wasn't as convenient to self-education (or I didn't use it as effectively for it) when I was in high school. I give the credit to the teachers.
From high school I went to Hiram College for undergrad and earned my B.A. in Computer Science. The CS department had four professors my freshman year and I attended the school because my father found some list stating that Hiram was highly ranked for undergraduate computer science. During my freshmen year the administration brilliantly decided to sabotage the department and downsized it to two professors. Oberta "Obie" Slotterbeck and Ellen Walker managed to pull off a 3-year sustained miracle of giving me a solid education in the field on their own. I will say, however, that I felt the impacts on this one. I had to take classes out of order; after my introduction to programming class in Java I had to take Parallel Computing and Artificial Intelligence without a Data Structures class. On this, I assure you, being "smarter than average" and self-determination was a huge factor.
I graduated in 2008 and still have mixed feelings about the college because those who influenced me the most were in spite of the administration rather than a result of them. In fact the professor who put the idea of getting a PhD into my head was fired (or so I heard) for being "incompatible" after my sophomore year. In truth, Costel Ionita just had high expectations that were achievable but the complaints of weak students were louder than reason. If you are a math major and "don't remember much about integrals because Calc II was 2 years ago" you deserved to be dressed down a bit.
After Hiram College a third miracle occurred and I was accepted to The University of Pennsylvania and advised by Norman I. Badler for my PhD. How did I decide on UPenn? Tenured professors at the other graduate schools I visited told me that if I had the opportunity to study under Norm Badler at UPenn there was no reason to consider their own programs. These were respected institutions of their own, but they were willing to give me selfless advice. I had never heard of anything like it!
I earned my M.S.E. in Computer and Information Science (UPenn's trendy name for CS) in 2010 and my PhD in 2015. It was a slog, but I succeeded. I don't know if that would have been possible without Norm's style of advising. I hope extreme self-doubt is commonplace amongst PhD candidates, because it certainly was for me but he helped me through it. I truly cannot thank Norm enough for his patience and understanding. I missed paper deadlines for the most bizarre family emergencies and he completely understood. When I was diagnosed with ADHD at 26 years old and living my own personal hell, Norm was reassuring. Let me be clear, I felt like some sort of failure for having ADHD but disclosed it to my advisor because I thought he had the right to know, and Norm (without me asking for it) helped me to acceptance about it.
So there you have it, academic rags to riches. Self-determination, divine intervention, and a cast of extremely dedicated individuals.