In some ways, it took a serious accident to set Zachary Mansuetti’s life on course.
After failing two classes during his first semester at the Community College of Rhode Island in 2007, Mansuetti stayed awake all night studying for a math test during the June 2008 summer session. He thinks his fatigue contributed to what happened next, as he drove to campus from his home in West Greenwich.
“Somehow I landed on [Route] 95 south instead of 95 north and I don’t remember much after that,” he said.
An 18-wheeler struck Mansuetti’s driver-side door, leaving him grievously hurt. He suffered a collapsed lung, fractured pelvis and lower vertebrae, a cut wrist and brain injuries that sent him into a seizure.
“[The doctors] weren’t sure if I was going to make it,” Mansuetti said. “I had two emergency surgeries and once my lung was re-inflated they knew I would be OK, but they didn’t know what state I would be in. They told my parents there was a distinct possibility I would be a vegetable.”
Mansuetti spent two weeks in a medically induced coma. He had vivid dreams that he had succeeded at each of his possible life goals: becoming an actor or a scholar of the Japanese language.
After Mansuetti woke up, these goals had to be put on hold. His doctors’ worst fears had not come to pass, but Mansuetti remained in the hospital for three more weeks and missed the Fall 2008 semester while he recovered in intensive physical therapy. Complications from his collapsed lung gave him many respiratory infections and two bouts of pneumonia.
When Mansuetti returned to school in Spring 2009, he was determined to be the best student he could.
“I always planned on coming back as soon as I could,” Mansuetti said. “After my accident I wanted to make sure I wet my feet in everything I potentially could be doing.”
Mansuetti redoubled his academic efforts and graduated with a General Studies degree and a 3.89 GPA. He was the stage manager of a CCRI drama production, wrote for the Unfiltered Lens student newspaper and took Japanese courses at the college and at the University of Rhode Island.
Mansuetti continued to undergo a physical change as well. At one time weighing almost 300 pounds, he continued the fitness program he had started before his accident and is now much healthier and 100 pounds lighter.
As busy as he was, Mansuetti was still unsure which of his interests to follow as a career path, but a chance encounter finally helped him decide.
Mansuetti took a trip to New York City to see Japanese pop star Utada Hikaru, one of Japan’s biggest stars who is known simply as Utada in the United States. He won a raffle to get up on stage to meet the singer, a moment that ended his internal debate.
“I got to actually meet somebody who sells out stadiums in Japan,” Mansuetti said.“And once that happened I took it as a sign that I was supposed to go with [studying] Japanese. Life was really pointing me in that direction.”
This decision came after a lifetime of interest in Japanese language and culture, starting when Mansuetti was in the fifth grade and became captivated by the Pokemon craze.
He decided he wanted to watch Pokemon cartoons in the original Japanese and ordered VHS tapes direct from Japan.
“Although I couldn’t understand what they were saying in the tapes, I fell in love with the way it sounded and how they pronounce the words,” Mansuetti said.
Mansuetti, 21, soon will turn his lifelong love of the language into a career. He has been accepted to Temple University of Japan in Tokyo, the only school that is recognized by both Japan and the United States, meaning he will technically have a degree from both countries.
Upon graduation, he hopes to work as a translator for the U.S. government, perhaps even for the United Nations.
“I would consider that to be my lifelong dream. I always had it in the back of my head but I never followed through that it was the one thing I wanted to do,” Mansuetti said.
“My time at CCRI was a time that I will never forget and I will always remain very thankful,” he added. “My gratitude is always with me for what they offered me, and I’m excited to take the next step and go to Tokyo.”