So, growing up I had a chip on my shoulder, probably still do. I was lucky though for two reasons. First, no matter what I did or how much I screwed around (e.g. in class disrupting others out of sheer boredom), school came easy and I was always at the top of the class somehow. Second, from an early age my mom knew I could go to college and began putting that idea in my head. I never assumed anything else, going to college after high school seemed a natural progression.
I had no idea how limiting coming out of Chico would be. I've seen a lot of graduate applications in my life, and mine was more than competitive as a math/econ/stat major with really good GREs and great supporting letters. But I was denied every place I applied and to this day I think that still affects my attitude about this profession. I can remember opening the letter with the last chance I had on my front porch and feeling crushed. I was going back to the tractor store just like my dad, brother, and grandfather. You can't get there from Chico no matter how good your record is.
Fortunately for me, I was working for a faculty member doing work for Medicaid estimating reimbursement levels for pharmaceutical drugs and he got to know me pretty well (he's president of a university now). When he found out I had been rejected everywhere, he made a phone call and got me into Washington State University with money, the place where he had gone to graduate school (in an afternoon - it wasn't until much later that I realized how much I owed him for doing that).