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Immigrant achieves a long-sought ambition: Highway Dept. employee will graduate as a nurse

The boy was only 7 when he arrived with his mother from Ukraine, speaking practically no English, but he nurtured a dream, which sustained him for years.

On Friday, May 19, Maksym Moroz, known by all as Max, will see the fulfillment of that dream when he will be present at a “pinning ceremony,” an acknowledgment that he has achieved an associates of science in nursing (ASN) degree from Suffolk  Community College.

And an added bonus for the boy who had to learn a new language — he was chosen by his classmates to give the commencement address.

Besides his schoolroom nursing classes he received hospital training at Good Samaritan Hospital in West Islip, St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson, and Long Island Community Hospital in Patchogue.

“I’m so honored by this,” Mr. Moroz, 25, said. “I had so much help along the way.”

He had help, but a lot of it came from himself, going to work to help pay for his education. The Shelter Island High School graduate — he played varsity basketball and appeared in school plays, among other activities — went to work for the Highway Department in 2017. He now works part time at the weighing station at the Recycling Center, as well as performing other duties for the department.

His inspiration to become a nurse came from his mother, Olha Michalak and his aunt, Cynthia Michalak, both nurses.

“And I’ve always liked science,” Mr. Moroz said, “especially health science.”

At times the studies seemed overwhelming, he said. “But when I started working in hospitals, with real hands-on, and working with all the professionals, I loved it, and thought, ‘This is doable.’”

He’d like to pursue psychiatric nursing, he said. “I love psychology.”

Mr. Moroz came from  the city of Kherson in Ukraine, arriving with his mother 18 years ago. The war there, beginning in February 2022, shattered her for a long time, he said, with the first few months of the war producing endless tears. “She had a plane ticket to go back to Ukraine just as the invasion started and had to cancel.”

Her son’s progress has brought joy to Ms. Michalak. “I’m extremely proud of my son graduating with flying colors,” she said. “Despite the challenge of juggling work and studies, Max persevered and matured in the process. I always knew he would make an excellent nurse given his ability to approach people with kindness and compassion. I can’t wait to see Max in his new role as a medical professional.”

If you speak to Islanders about Mr. Moroz, invariably you’ll hear the same thing: steady, solid, a good sense of humor, and a stamina and drive to get things done.

Fellow Highway Department employee Mike Reiter has been one of several mentors for Mr. Moroz, and the young man lived with him and his wife Kelly for three years at one time.

“Everyone loves Max,” Mr. Reiter said. “I’m so proud of him, like we all are.”

At one point, Mr. Moroz was offered a full-time job by the Department. “But I told him, ‘No, keep studying, keep pushing,’” Mr. Reiter said.

Highway Department Superintendent Brian Sherman has high praise for Mr. Moroz. “Max is always kind and courteous and always has a sense of humor about work and life,” Mr. Sherman said. “He never missed a day. I know he’ll have great success at his new job and wish him the best.”

A couple of other fellow employees, Anthony Reiter and Mike Gulluscio, will also miss him on the job, but are thrilled at his achievement. They spoke about him as “that young kid at work always goofing around, but knew when it was time to work to be serious and get the task at hand done.”

Anthony Reiter noted that, “He knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but that didn’t stop him. Studying and tests were only half of it, and after he got really involved with the in-hospital training, it was almost every day and night for a long time. But Max never quit working or showed up late or complained, he was always positive with motivated attitude.”

Mr. Gulluscio added that, “We’re super proud of the young man, of what he’s become. Watching him grow as a person, we knew all along that he would accomplish his goal, with the top honors of his class.”

Asked about  the focus of his commencement speech, Mr. Moroz said he planned to congratulate fellow classmates on their achievement, and “the importance of using compassion alongside a precise, research-based methodology to care for patients. I’ll also explain how important it is for the nurses to take care of their own mental and physical health to give the best to their patients.”

He’ll conclude by thanking all the people who supported the students. “A strong support system is instrumental in success,” he said.