Grace Fuller

Grace Fuller is one of 10 finalists of NPR’s College Podcast Challenge. Photo: Contributed

First-Year Lehigh Student Grace Fuller Makes NPR’s College Podcast Challenge Top 10

In ‘In Search of Home,' Fuller reflects on the experience of losing her home in the Colorado wildfires.

What five things would you save if your house was on fire, asks Lehigh first-year student Grace Fuller, one of 10 finalists of NPR’s College Podcast Challenge. Titled In Search of Home, her podcast turns the ice-breaker on its head, as she documented what her family went through when their house was destroyed in the Colorado wildfires of December 2021. 

“It’s all hypothetical, right?” Fuller says. “Well, until you’re driving away from dark clouds of smoke that are rising from your neighborhood, hands shaking, mind spinning.”  

NPR’s College Podcast Challenge takes on an additional relevance this year as the competition explores the topic of self-discovery, while pushing on from the difficulties associated with the pandemic. The competition received entries from 37 states and the District of Columbia. As a finalist, Fuller received a prize of $500. 

Inclusion in the shortlist took Fuller by surprise after a particularly difficult year, she says. In her podcast, she relived the aftermath of a disaster, which was equal parts terrifying and terribly life-altering.

wildfires destroyed Grace Fuller's house

Grace Fuller '25 lost her home in the Colorado wildfires.

 

“As we sped away from our flaming neighborhood, I rambled more at my mom than to her,” she shares in the podcast. “In hindsight, I think it’s probably because silence felt worse. The silence left a space for my brain to fill with scattered flashes of what just happened, of sud and dusk in my eyes, and of the darkness looming in the sky around me.” 

Fuller had less than eight minutes to capture not only a terrible incident but also the emotional whirlwind that followed. Included were interviews with her father, mother and younger brother. Their thoughts and feelings help paint the whole picture, she says, as they relied on each other in trying to find their footings. For her parents, that included grieving the loss of things that bear witness to their lives. 

The rest of the podcast was based on a piece of writing that she used to reflect on what had happened. At Lehigh, she plans to major in English with a concentration in creative writing. Writing has always helped Fuller process her emotions and, in this instance, grief. Fuller says she put her emotions on paper as they occurred to her, afraid she would lose them too. 

She couldn’t cry. She couldn’t cry watching her neighborhood burning on live news. She couldn’t cry driving away from her standing house for the last time. She had been able to conceal her grief until her music, on random shuffle, played The Feels by Twice, as she was just wandering aimlessly through the aisles of Target. Then it came. 

“I was staring at a row of pajama pants that weren’t available in my size, and suddenly I was crying,” she says in the podcast. “Crying because this song was on my Dance It Out playlist, and all it made me want to do was dance in my room. My room that I didn’t have anymore. My room that was burnt to a crisp and filled with the ashes of everything else.” 

Fuller expressed gratitude to the Lehigh community for its support after the fires. Her family had a GoFundMe after they were safely evacuated and moved to a temporary home. Fuller says many Lehigh families spread the word and donated. On campus, she also felt a sentimental attachment to her home away from home. 

“When it was time for me to return to Lehigh, I didn’t know if I was ready,” she says. “But then I thought it would be nice to just be in a different environment and back in my dorm room, where I had my decorations, some mementos and what was left of my growing up.” 

The kitchen where she baked with her mom. The dining table where she faced off against her father in chess. The backyard where she competed in badminton with her little brother. Those losses were significant. And they still feel like wounds, she says, but they’re healing over. More importantly, she says, she knows now more than ever the importance of family—of her parents and brother, who made those spaces special in the first place. 

“I can’t go back to my house, but I can go back to my home,” she says in the podcast. “As it turned out, that never left.” 

Story by Minh Le

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