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Jeff Bezos' single teen mom took him to school with her when he was a baby

CNBC logo CNBC 6/14/2019 Catherine Clifford
Thérèse Steinmetz, Jeff Bezos are posing for a picture: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos poses on the red carpet with his parents Mike and Jackie for the Smithsonian Magazine's 2016 American Ingenuity Awards.© Provided by CNBC LLC Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos poses on the red carpet with his parents Mike and Jackie for the Smithsonian Magazine's 2016 American Ingenuity Awards.

Jeff Bezos was born the son of a single teen mom who was so strapped she couldn't afford a telephone, and he is now the richest person in the world, worth $117 billion, according to Bloomberg.

His own story is inspirational as success stories go. But so is his mom's.

"My mom's incredible story. Wow. So grateful. So proud," Bezos tweeted on Monday with the hashtag "#grit" and a clip of a commencement address Jacklyn Bezos delivered at Cambridge College on Sunday.

"I can assure you that being a pregnant teenager in high school was not cool in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at that time," Jeff Bezos said in 2018. "And so it was very difficult for her."

Indeed, Jacklyn Bezos was barely 17 and a junior in high school when she gave birth to Bezos in 1964, she said in her commencement speech. The school administrators initially told her she would not be allowed to finish high school.

"It didn't make any sense to me, so I pushed back and I kept on pushing back. And eventually the school relented, they would allow me to come back to school but there would be conditions," Jacklyn said.

Those rules were harsh and dehumanizing: "Condition one, I had to arrive and depart school within five minutes of the starting and finishing bells. Condition two, I could not talk to other students. Condition three, I couldn't eat lunch in the cafeteria. Condition four, I was told I would not be allowed to walk across the stage with my classmates to get my diploma," she said.

Still, Jacklyn complied, persisted and graduated.

Divorced from Bezos's biological father, Ted Jorgensen, by the time Bezos was 17 months, Jacklyn sought out work as a secretary (she had been taking secretarial classes in the afternoons).

And "even though I was a terrible typist and couldn't read my own shorthand, somebody actually hired me" she says. She got a job which paid $190 per month.

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Jacklyn was able to move into her own apartment with her son, but it left her no money to afford to have a phone. Since Jacklyn's parents wanted to speak with their daughter daily, her father set her up with a walkie-talkie and told her to check in every day at 7 a.m.

"That's how we were able to stay in an apartment ... because I didn't have to pay for a phone," Jacklyn said on Sunday.

Determined to continue her education, Jacklyn enrolled in night school and picked her classes based on which professor would allow her to bring her infant to class with her.

"I would show up with an infant and two duffel bags," Jacklyn said Sunday. "One full of my text books and the other full of diapers — cloth diapers, bottles...And the second duffel bag would have items that might keep Jeff interested for a few minutes."

It was in one of those classes that Jacklyn met her future husband, Mike Bezos, a Cuban refugee. Jeff refers to Mike as his father.

When the young family had to move for Mike's job, Jacklyn's "dream of graduating from college was put on hold," she said — for years.

When Jacklyn sent her own children off to college, she envied them. So eventually, Jacklyn did go back to college.

"Finally, after delays and setbacks, I feasted at the table of higher education. And boy did I feast. I was relentless. I devoured my classes," she said.

More than two decades after finishing high school, Jacklyn graduated from college.

"When I graduated from the college of Saints Elizabeth at the age of 40, I had never been more proud of myself. I felt 10 feet tall. Now that's a gain of 5 feet. So. That's a pretty big gain from graduation."

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