FSU’s First Lady Josée Vachon: From student journalist to renowned performer

Courtesy of The Farmington Libraries

By Ashlyn Kelly

Editorial Staff

Josée Vachon was studying to be a high school French teacher. 

She never imagined she would end up working for a newspaper during her studies. She said she didn’t think it was a well-known fact about her. 

While she was at the University of Maine, Vachon said she had been given some money for a work-study position that she was not quite sure how to find. 

Vachon said someone suggested to her, “You’re French Canadian – why don’t you go check out the Franco-American office?”

There, she became a typesetter for Le Forum, a monthly newspaper with articles published in both French and English. According to Vachon, the newspaper served an audience of approximately 7,500 people across New England. 

“It became a home away from home on campus,” Vachon said. “I just loved the atmosphere.”

As a typesetter, she was in charge of typing and printing the paper – or, as Vachon put it, “cut and paste” the newspaper together. “Things would print out and then I would – with an Exacto knife – lay out the whole newspaper over the month.”

She rose through the ranks during her time at Le Forum, moving from typesetter to student editor. 

As student editor, Vachon said she was in charge of a group that wrote for the “student pages” of the paper. 

“Students would come in between classes, and so I just kept pushing students to make sure that their articles were ready for the pages we had,” she added. “Everybody loved to hang out there.”

Finally, she moved from student editor to managing editor.

Vachon said one of her favorite memories was working in the office. 

“I discovered other students around the state of Maine who were of French Canadian background,” she said. “It really became a niche for me.”

With the experience of having worked at a newspaper, Vachon acknowledged the important role that journalism plays in society. 

“We need to know what’s going on,” she said. “It’s communication and it’s fact-checking today – that’s crucial, too.”

Looking back on the various campuses she and her husband, President F. Javier Cevallos, have been to, she said, “I think The Gatepost is one of the top papers that I’ve seen.”

Vachon added, “I think that the articles are well-read, well-written, well-researched.

“I love reading when [The Gatepost has] a topic of the week and you get different student perspectives,” she said.

Vachon said despite not working at a newspaper after she left Le Forum, the newspaper helped kick-start her career in music. 

During a holiday party at her newspaper boss’s house, a guitar was being passed around. When it came to Vachon, those around her were impressed by her skills. 

She said she was “very shy,” so her boss didn’t “bother” to tell her he was submitting her name to a few French festivals in Maine. 

“Suddenly, I got letters saying that I was scheduled for the noontime slot at the Lewiston, Maine festival,” she added. 

Now, she travels, singing “​​traditional and contemporary folksongs from Québec and Acadia and … her own compositions,” according to her website. She has 12 credited solo recordings and her music has been included in MicroSoft’s AutoMap Trip Planner software and La Bolduc, a documentary for Canada’s History Channel.

“They started my career,” said Vachon. “You know, if I hadn’t been at that office, maybe I would be the French teacher.”