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 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.
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. 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.
So there you have it, academic rags to riches. Self-determination, divine intervention, and a cast of extremely dedicated individuals.