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rise through the ranks

Also, rise from the ranks ; come up through the ranks . Work one's way to the top, as in He's risen through the ranks, starting as a copyboy and ending up as senior editor . Originally this term was used for an officer who had worked his way up from the rank of private, a rare feat. It was being applied to nonmilitary advances by the mid-1800s. Also see come up , def. 4.
The American HeritageĀ® Idioms Dictionary
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