Dear Stan Lee,

I'd hoped to say all of this in person to you one day, when I finally land a job at Marvel. In my mind, I'd see you at some event in passing and stop you to say thank you, for exposing me to this beautiful creative world of heroes and villains and pain and joy and everything in between. I would've thanked you for reminding me that my passion is valid and important. I would've told you how many years I've spent reading your work, and laughing at your cameos, and how many times I cried over superheroes because they are so undeniably human, even if they do have superhuman strength. I would've asked to give you a hug. I would've d let you know that I found my calling because of the stories you shared with the world. That I write comics to inspire others, just as you did.

Like you, I found my calling to be a writer early on in life. I was fascinated with the way heroes, in comics or not, could band together to defeat evil. You started to work for Marvel at age 17. You stayed there from 1939 to 2018. You've been helping it grow into what it is now for practically your entire life. I hope I can have a fraction of the impact you had on that company someday. You've been a part of my life since I can remember. Whether it was my brothers third birthday party that was Spider-Man-themed, or the books I'd check out from my elementary school library with colorful suits and heroes painted on the cover, or watching The Avengers or Spider-Man cartoons in my PJs on Saturday morning, or when my older cousin showed me Iron Man for the first time, even though we both knew I wasn't old enough, or freshman year of high school when I spent an hour trying to turn a fruit platter into a makeshift Captain America shield.

It wasn't until the end of my sophomore year of high school, though, when I decided that one day, I'd work for you. I wanted to work for Marvel. I was a hero on a mission. This was my quest. Then, one day a year or two after I'd pondered what life as a writer for Marvel would be like, I was scrolling through Tumblr, as teenagers do, and came across an article where you said something that has never left me.

"I used to be embarrassed because I was just a comic-book writer while other people were building bridges or going on to medical careers. And then I began to realize: entertainment is one of the most important things in people's lives. Without it they might go off the deep end. I feel that if you're able to entertain people, you're doing a good thing."

I read that, and suddenly, I felt like I'd gotten all of the affirmation I needed. I felt like you were looking at me through my phone and speaking to me. The next day, I started my blog.

I got the news of your passing on my six-hour drive back to my school in Rhode Island. I'd been visiting a friend of mine in Maryland. During my time there, we took a trip into D.C. and I practically begged her to go to the Washington Monument and the Reflection Pool with me. Because for me, they're not just markers of United States history. They're markers in Marvel history, too. The monument, where young Tom Holland's Peter Parker saved his friends from falling to their death, and the pool, where Sam Willson and Steve Rogers cross paths in the MCU for the very first time.

Now that I'm in college, I've decided to double major in communications and film. I want everyone to feel represented in Marvel's comic books and films. I want to carry out your legacy for generations to come. I want to make you proud. Thank you for never failing to put a smile on my face. For empowering us. For making each cameo better than the last. For working so hard to bring joy to others.

I want to make sure that people remember Stan Lee as a real-life superhero because that is what you were, and are, to me.

Excelsior,

Bailey Rose VanderVeen