Award Profile: Janora A. McDuffie ’99

Janora A. McDuffie ’99

2023 Beech Outstanding Alumni Award

If you’re a Grey’s Anatomy fan, you likely remember Janora McDuffie ’99 as Janet the social worker on seasons seven and eight of the popular medical drama.

And if you tuned into the 94th Academy Awards in 2022, you may have recognized her voice as the live announcer. While these accomplishments were undoubtedly fulfilling for McDuffie, an actress, voiceover artist, speaker, host and a 2023 Harvey E. Beech Outstanding Alumni Award recipient, she acknowledges her path in Hollywood wasn’t always smooth or glamorous.

In fact, McDuffie said she struggled to define herself after her stint on Grey’s Anatomy ended, and it was this difficult chapter in her life that triggered a sequence of events that brought her back to Chapel Hill more frequently and, more importantly, created opportunities to use her talents to serve the University. Advice from her father to “do your best and let God do the rest” has sustained her in challenging times, she said.

Bernadine Cobb ’84, senior vice president of State Employees’ Credit Union and a Carolina Alumni Board of Directors member, nominated McDuffie for the award. The women grew up in the same Durham neighborhood. “I have known Janora for many years and have had the pleasure of watching her grow and progress to great heights, all while lifting others as she’s climbed,” said Cobb. “She has excelled in many areas, and her involvement at Carolina spans many arenas.”

Indeed. McDuffie attended UNC on a prestigious Morehead-Cain scholarship, is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., gives back to her alma mater whenever she can, is on the Carolina Pride Alumni Network Board of Directors and, in May, delivered the keynote address at the Lavender Graduation, which celebrates the achievements of LGBTQ+ students and their allies. When asked what accomplishment she’s most proud of, she mentioned three:

  • organizing a campus march during her student days to raise funds for a freestanding Black Cultural Center (now called the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History);
  • inclusion in “The Story of Us,” an LGBTQ+ oral history collection at Wilson Library; and
  • serving as mistress of ceremonies at the Campaign for Carolina Closing Celebration event

After earning her bachelor’s degree in 1999 in psychology and communications studies, with a concentration in performance, McDuffie worked briefly in the corporate world before moving to Los Angeles the following year to pursue her childhood dream of becoming an actress. With over 60 acting credits, she’s appeared on TV shows including The Unit, 24, Lie to Me, This is Us and Criminal Minds and has done voice acting for commercials, video games and other animations.

Lori Ann Harris ’84 first met McDuffie when she “wowed and mesmerized” the audience as the 2011 Black Alumni Reunion Student Alumni Dinner keynote speaker. “As a Morehead-Cain Scholar, Janora immediately immersed herself in all things Carolina,” Harris said. “While pursuing academic excellence, she found time to involve herself in campus wide organizations and activities. Amidst all her achievements, Janora has not forgotten UNC and continues to serve this University beyond reproach.”

McDuffie represents the best of what Carolina has to offer — a commitment to excellence, a passion for making a difference and a dedication to the betterment of society. “My goal is never to stop learning, to always stay curious and never be afraid to take up space where you might not see yourself,” said the woman who lives in Long Beach, California, with her wife, Leila Ryan and believes in leading by example, the power of representation and staying true to yourself.

“To be honored in this way as an out and proud Black queer woman is a testament that we belong, we are seen, we are loved and we are celebrated,” McDuffie said.

— Cassandra P. Harper ’86