Mark Sheppard is an ordinary guy who took a job that he felt was his calling: He helps people—most of them with special needs—learn how to navigate their world by bus.

DeGregory has a knack for portraying character in vivid and distinctive ways: “Sheppard is 53. His thick, pewter hair frames his rectangular face, and laugh lines fan out from his ice-blue eyes. His lips seem tipped into a perpetual smile. He’s as tall as a basketball player, as broad as a linebacker. His bearing and his voice exude the soft benevolence of a Baptist youth minister.”

We’re glad DeGregory didn’t rely on photos to show her readers what her protagonist looks like. Her portrayal does more than just describe features. It gives us a sense for the man.

The most affecting parts of the piece tell the story of Sheppard’s work with Justin, a boy with Down’s syndrome. This is the most closely reported, and touching, section of the story. We wonder if focusing on Justin, with other material treated as digressions, would have made this lovely piece even stronger.

Read “Route to Independence,” by Lane DeGregory

Most popular articles from Nieman Storyboard