Written by

Fifteen year-old Tal Volk wanted his big sister's 19th birthday to be special.

A first-year student at Whitman College, Maya Volk ’16 was celebrating her birthday away from home for the first time – so Tal decided to take action. He went straight to the top, emailing President Bridges himself to alert him of his sister’s big day:

Hi Mr. Bridges,

My name is Tal Volk, I am 15 years old, and my sister, Maya Volk is currently attending your college. Tomorrow, Saturday September 8, will be her 19th Birthday. This is her first birthday away from home and her first birthday where I wont be able to congratulate her in person. I know that your schedule is very very busy, but if you have extra time tomorrow, could you say hi to her and wish her a Happy Birthday? If you want, you can even give her a big hug. She lives in Anderson. I know that your schedule is complicated, and that there might not be time to do this. Either way, Thank You for making her experience great so far.

Thanks again,

-Tal Volk

The next day, Maya was sitting on the steps of her residence hall with a friend when President Bridges surprised her with a bouquet of flowers and wished her a happy birthday.

"I was so shocked and honored!” Maya said. “President Bridges read my brother's email, and then gave me flowers and a hug, like my brother had asked. It was definitely the highlight of my day."

A Portland native and graduate of Riverdale High School, Maya hopes to major in English or the social sciences. She says she chose Whitman because of its tight-knit community.

"I loved the community, the academics, and just the general friendliness and supportive feeling around campus," she said. "People are passionate and push themselves without being competitive, which I really appreciate. It sounds cliché, but after I visited it felt like I belonged here."

When word reached Maya and Tal's mom, Patty Magid-Volk, of the birthday surprise, she was "ecstatic."

"Maya’s having a great start to this new chapter of her life," she said.

President Bridges added that although his schedule doesn’t permit him to surprise every Whitman student in person for his or her birthday, he nevertheless cares deeply about the well-being of all Whitman students, especially those just making the transition from high school to college life.

"Interacting one-on-one with students like Maya is one of the many joys of my position," he said. "The look on her face when I read her brother's message was truly touching. Although I’m unable to wish every individual student a happy birthday in person, I hope they all know that I am working, as is every Whitman faculty and staff member, to help them enjoy the college and be successful. We are dedicated to our students."