Tamara Duricka keeps up with entertaining challenges

Roanoke Alum finds success in career with ABC

"I write 'Cliff's Notes' for anchors." That's how Tamara Duricka '98 describes her job. Technically, she is a writer and live segment producer for Good Morning America. "I write a lot of the things that Diane Sawyer will say - and has likely tweaked," the Maroon adds with a laugh.

Duricka, who graduated from Roanoke in three years and with two majors, is always challenging herself to something. In fact, her latest personal challenge involves her very personal life. "I'm not getting paid for this," she points out. It's 31 dates in 31 days and is just what it sounds like.

Duricka started a blog to chronicle 30 dates, each with a different man. There are several self-imposed rules in her game (including that each date must cost $31 or less and last at least 31 minutes), and the 31st date will be a second date. Duricka says she hasn't decided yet how she will choose with whom the second date - slated for Valentine's Day - will be, but she is entertaining the idea of doing an online poll and letting friends and fans decide. You can get in on the action at www.31datesin31days.com.

Just the thought of 31 nights out in a row may make some feel tired, but not Duricka. She has always been one to fill her days. As a student at Roanoke, she took at least six courses in each semester - and usually seven or eight. She was involved in at least one play per semester, travelled abroad for a semester, sang in the College Choir and joined Chi Omega during her last year on campus.

By her final semester, she had taken a job as a producer with WSLS, the local NBC affiliate in Roanoke, where she began work each morning at 4 a.m. She started classes by 9 a.m. and then attended choir and play practice. "Somehow I studied," says the former dean's list student.

These days, Duricka usually arrives at work at either noon or 3 p.m., depending on the broadcast to which she is assigned. (On days when she works in the control room during the live broadcast, she gets to the office by 3 a.m.) A typical day includes preparing copy for anchors, interviewing guests prior to on-air interviews and ordering graphics to accompany her stories.

"I love stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I've never been one to be overly fascinated with celebrities. I'm more motivated and inspired by people who want to make our world a better place to live," Duricka says. "My most fascinating interview was years ago with Condoleezza Rice. She's an amazing woman who has pushed herself further and further for the greater good of mankind."

About celebrity encounters, Duricka says, "I get excited about celebrities no one really cares about. Marcia Cross gave me hope as she talked about how she dealt with being a single woman before finally meeting the man of her dreams at 40 years old. And William H. Macy granted me an hour-long interview because I wouldn't stop asking him about his inspirations and techniques as an actor. I was more excited for my mother than for myself about my interview with feminist leader Gloria Steinem."

Duricka is quick to praise her Roanoke College experience for shaping her life today. She visited Roanoke after applying on a whim, then "totally fell for it" when she came to campus for a scholars competition. She calls her experience "pretty unique."

Coming into the College, Duricka knew she wanted to major in English but was looking for a second major "for fun." She chose theatre after attending auditions for a play with a hall mate during her first year. (She's also been involved in theatre since the age of seven.) She already knew that she wanted to graduate in three years, but she didn't know just how difficult that would prove.

Duricka's father died of cancer during the first few weeks of her second year at college. "This was the point where Roanoke saved my life in a way. If I hadn't been at Roanoke with that crisis, I would not have survived or graduated in three years," she says. "Professors, the chaplain, everyone showed me they were part of my community."

Though Duricka was never a student in one of Dr. Tom Carter's journalism courses, she remembers distinctly that he shared with her the story of his father's passing shortly after he began a master's degree program at Georgia Southern College. That stuck with her as one of the many times someone at Roanoke "helped me figure it out. They all really helped me. The character of the people who worked there just really, really shined."

In fact, Duricka's desire to become a journalist sprang not from coursework but from an experience inspired by her father just a few weeks before he died. He suggested that she volunteer as a runner at the Republican National Convention. She was skeptical - until he pointed out that she would be paid, put up in a hotel room in San Diego and would surely make an adventure of it. She decided to go and, on her return, excitedly announced that she wanted to be a journalist. "Yeah, I figured," her father replied.

Following college, Duricka worked in television production in Roanoke, Salt Lake City and Portland. After a few years in Portland, she began to seek out her next big challenge. Looking for a sign to guide her future, she came across an article on an e-mail list serve announcing a new master's program in journalism at Columbia University. Taking this as the sign she had awaited, she had just two weeks to apply and needed three letters of recommendation. She immediately called Dr. Lisa Warren, a former professor at Roanoke, who gladly obliged.

"She and I kept in touch. That's the great thing - I can call her up and say, 'hey, Lisa, it's Tamara...' From what other school could I get that? She knew me as person, a worker and a student."

Duricka was one of just 27 people accepted into the program - and was given a full fellowship, covering her tuition - so she packed two bags and moved to New York. She graduated the 10-month program on a Thursday and again had bags packed for a trip to Europe. She would ship her belongings back across the country on Friday and catch a flight across the Atlantic on Saturday.

Just as Duricka was packing up her things to be shipped across the country, a call came to Columbia from ABC. They needed someone with TV experience and wondered if any of the University's recent grads fit the bill. Duricka was the suggestion, and ABC called her for an interview. "I told them, 'I'm leaving for Europe tomorrow, so if we're going to do an interview, it has to be today.'" The interview was set for 3 p.m. that same day, and Duricka has been enjoying work on the well-known television news show ever since.

Photos courtesy of Melissa at BITTER photography

Released: January 18, 2010