Alumni Profile: Julianna Truesdale '09

“TC3 will always have a special place in my heart.” Those are the words of Julianna Truesdale, a 2009 graduate of Tompkins Cortland Community College’s graphic design program. And when you hear her story, it’s easy to see why she feels that way. 

Julianna Truesdale

I was sex trafficked from 1989 through 1993. I became a meth addict in 1989 and remained one for 16 years. I was eventually homeless on the streets of Los Angeles, doing what I needed to do to stay alive. I was arrested Feb 27, 2005 and hit bottom. I wanted to get clean and start my life again so I made a plea deal, and instead of doing five years, I did four months, but that meant a felony on my record. I didn't realize that would make my life so difficult in the future. I detoxed in jail for a full month and started my recovery. When I was released, I asked probation to allow me to move out of L.A. because of negative influences. But where would I go? 


Why did you choose to attend Tompkins Cortland? I am an artist, and my sister, who lived in Ithaca, told me about TC3 and that she heard they have a great graphic design department. I applied to TC3, and they accepted me. 

How did your college experience at Tompkins Cortland prepare you for what came next (career and/or transfer)? Before TC3, I was a diminished person, broken, feeling worthless, feeling "less than" everyone else, and like the scourge of society. I didn't know if I could even handle one class, let alone a degree. Was I smart enough to even pass a class? Was I too old to try this? The last time I used a computer was in 1989. Am I setting myself up for failure? I applied myself and soaked up every morsel of information I could get from my classes and professors at TC3. The professors gave of their time generously, and I forged amazing relationships with them all. I took a class that made students stand before the class and speak. That helped me immensely when, later, I would become a motivational and inspirational speaker telling my story. 

The real life-changing part: at TC3 I realized that I am smart. I started feeling my worth; I felt a sense of belonging for the first time in almost 20 years and was respected. Me! I was respected!!!! I enjoyed every professor and staff member immensely. I forged amazing one-on-one relationships with the professors because the smaller class sizes and their passion for education allowed that. I would visit TC3 staff offices periodically to say hi and share my status because I wanted them all to know that even someone with a record can excel, change their entire existence, and start having hope for the future. I considered the staff my cheerleaders because they were always supportive, interested, and excited about my successes. What helped me be so successful? My personal experiences on and off campus, the incredible support from what I called "the TC3 team," the smaller classrooms, the generosity of time by everyone, the approach to learning, the interest everyone took in my education, and the education itself. 

What has been your career journey, and how did your time at TC3 impact your path?

I graduated from TC3 with a 4.0 GPA and acceptance into the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). It was not easy because of the felony, but at the RIT portfolio review, my portfolio was the only one accepted out of an auditorium full of potential design students because I was prepared for RIT portfolio review requirements by the TC3 arts professors. They helped me decide what to include and why. While at RIT, I won many merit scholarships and awards and got to know the President and some of the Trustees very well. They all wrote letters of recommendation for my job search after graduation, and we remain connected.

After graduating RIT with a 4.0 GPA, I was sent on a scholarship to a lengthy Masters of Design Workshop in Provence, France, to study with the many famous designers, and I worked in the industry for five years after graduation to hone my skills and learn everything I could about design and the workings of a design agency. In 2016, I founded my own agency, True Creative Design and Marketing. True Creative is flourishing and growing throughout Central New York and the Finger Lakes region. 

I didn't realize it in 2007 when I chose TC3, but I was making the best choice for myself to attend community college as a nontraditional student. 

Who at TC3 had the greatest positive impact on your experience or your future? My design professor InShik Lee. She emphasized moving away from expected design and thinking outside of the box, which is a must to be successful in this industry. She and Donna Manier were also key in my portfolio preparation that earned my acceptance into RIT. 

What are some of your favorite memories from TC3? For the first time in my life, I experienced pride and self-worth, which was life-changing for me. In particular, I developed enough self-confidence to overcome my fear of public speaking in class to actually use that skill today when I share my story by speaking to large crowds. I also enjoyed sharing and critiquing our work in art classes, something artists do daily in this industry. I formed valuable friendships with students and enriching relationships with professors that are ongoing fifteen years later. 

Were there any support at TC3 that were especially helpful throughout your college experience? My journey from homelessness to attending college for the first time at 46-years-old was terrifying to me. The entire TC3 team supported me, from office staff to the professors and even other students. The professors were especially encouraging and took the time to work with me if I needed a better understanding of something. I always felt welcome to approach the professors with questions or educational needs that arose. 

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to yourself (or anyone) when you started at TC3? If you plan on transferring to a four-year program at another college, before signing up for classes at TC3, research the class requirements for the first two years of the college you want to transfer to so you choose classes at TC3 that will transfer with full credits. Also find out if the college you want to transfer to has any scholarships for transfer students, and keep those requirement in mind when doing the work at TC3. That alone saved me $12,000 a year when I transferred to RIT. Spend time with your professors; they are key to your success and are there to help you understand and learn. If you need something, say something. The TC3 staff and professors want you to succeed in your education. 

TC3 gave me self-worth and confidence in my life and made me surge with pride. It changed my entire outlook on the world and what was possible for my future. I started to respect myself. I earned the respect of others. I had never had that. I discovered that I am a critical thinker, who is intelligent, creative, driven, determined, more than capable, and inspiring. That was a life-changing gift.