Successful role model pays a visit to Landmark East

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By Wendy Elliott


Diagnosed as an adult, comedian and actor Patrick McKenna was a mature, bright guy who struggled with issues of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). He was the ideal graduation speaker for Landmark East School.

McKenna, 53, told his audience of students, parents and teachers about growing up with a ‘bad boy’ label.

“It was terrible. I’d try to be good, to settle down, smarten up,” he said.

Describing himself then as a “crack monkey,” McKenna faced public humiliation because his dyslexia preventing him from being able to spell.

“Being that kid was really, really hard,” he said, until he realized his impulsivity could make people laugh. Then, in Grade 12, a teacher convinced him to try theatre.

A school trip to Toronto from his home in Hamilton, Ont. gave McKenna his first experience with improvised comedy.

“That’s it,” he recalled exulting.

Although McKenna had stints in a factory and delivering pizza, he had found his passion. Eventually he became night manager at Second City, performed as a stand-up comic and then joined the Red Green Show on television. Before long, he was winning Gemini Awards.

“I know I would not have been there without ADD, getting an award for what I’m good at,” he said.

“All of a sudden, my dyslexia helped me learn. I had to memorize 56 pages (of script) a night. A skill came out of a negative.”

McKenna told the students, “We’re amazing.” He said a stable 30-year marriage and finding his passion for the stage helped him find success.

“I got applause for being a loud, stupid kid,” he recalled. Now, he suggests, “love will bring the best out of you… Believe in yourself and trust who you are.”

When not performing, McKenna uses his ADD experiences and humorous perspective to tour universities and conferences throughout North America to speak about ADD. 

McKenna and his wife Janis were central to an award-winning documentary called ADD and Loving it. The film points out that ADD is thought to be genetically driven in one out of 25 adults.


About Landmark East

The Wolfville school, a co-ed international facility that caters to students with learning disabilities in Grade 3 to 12, started out as the crazy dream of five Halifax parents.

Fifteen years later, headmaster Peter Coll says the school is full of positive energy and this term accommodated 63 students.

“We’re growing new students,” he said. Last year 17 students graduated and 25 left the school. They were replaced by 31 youth.

The school began 15 years ago in the old Paramount Hotel with 11 students, three teachers and several hotel guests, Coll said. Now, Landmark East has new robotics programs, for example, and was a test school for the ‘Spark’ exercise program created by John Ratey of Harvard University.

The school serves youth who are overlooked or not served well in mainstream schools, according to the headmaster. Coll saluted this year’s eight graduates. They came from as far away as Bermuda, Mexico and Hong Kong.

Landmark East students typically have average or above average cognitive ability, but are challenged by one or more language-based learning differences such as dyslexia, attention deficit disorder or non-verbal learning disabilities. 

Organizations: Landmark East School, Wolfville school, Paramount Hotel Harvard University

Geographic location: Toronto, Hamilton, North America Bermuda Mexico Hong Kong

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