The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Jillian Bergman Selected as 2021 Celebration of Excellence Alumni Speaker


Commonwealth Honors College alumna Jillian Bergman ’04, an ice cream-making hopeful–turned-documentarian has been selected as the alumni speaker for the 2021 Commonwealth Honors College Celebration of Excellence. The virtual convocation will take place on May 13 from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and will feature a speech by Bergman and student speaker Ryan Duggan

Bergman’s time at UMass started with an affinity for science and a love for ice cream. Beginning as a chemical engineering student, she had hoped to land an engineering career with her favorite company, Ben & Jerry’s. By junior year, Bergman transitioned to the neuroscience track and determined, “I just like eating ice cream—maybe I don’t need to make it.” 

While she left her dreams of making ice cream behind with her major, Bergman admired the company’s commitment to social activism and embodied it in her own way at UMass. From starting a meals-on-wheels program to providing every female student on campus with the resources to perform self-breast exams, Bergman grew her love for making change while at the University. 

Change, however, has been a recurring theme in her life and Bergman was not going to let difference get in the way of progress. She changed majors, worked in public schools in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, worked for a biotech startup, enrolled in architecture school, all to land an internship at age 29 with a production company that made music videos. It was through this new path that Bergman would begin working on and producing several award-winning documentaries, which have premiered at prestigious film festivals, garnered Emmy nominations, a DuPont Award, and most recently one was shortlisted for an Oscar. 

“I’m really glad when I was in my late 20s, I wasn’t too proud to change tracks and find a fulfilling career,” she says. All this change may turn some heads, but Bergman wants to remind students that turning heads means you’re probably doing something right. 

Bergman will be returning to the same school where she was turning heads, albeit virtually, this time as a guest speaker. “It is a privilege to have any platform to speak, but speaking at UMass is the honor of a lifetime,” says the 2004 alumna. 

If there is anyone fit to preach deviation from the norm, it is Jillian Bergman. A parting piece of advice she leaves for students, “Don’t compare yourself to other people, just focus on what you can do,” she reminds the graduating class of 2021.

Photo credit: @jillyjills