Honorary Graduates

Orations and responses

Response by Mike Leigh

Time passes. The clock ticks. The tide comes in and the tide goes out. Seasons pass. Life passes us by. Time continues.  (pause)  That was time continuing. 

An elderly, frail, infirm woman, very slowly and in great pain, gets out of  her armchair and moves even more slowly through her living-room and down to her scullery.  She has to negotiate three steps. She makes a cup of tea: she has to turn on the tap and she has to put on the kettle.  Eventually the tea is made and she has to negotiate her way up those steps, into the room, back to the armchair, with the cup of tea. It takes forever - and it actually only took a few minutes.  A week’s holiday is only  a week – we could do with more, but a week in a dungeon cell with nothing to eat and no light is a very long week.  Sex can take forever, and it can be over very quickly.  A glutton at the fridge in the middle of the night doesn’t notice the time passing at all. A child at Christmas wants more and more of it.  A soldier in battle can experience time in all sorts of ways.   How quickly time goes by when you are enjoying yourself.  They say that in accidents and at the moment of death, time slows down.

We who make films and we who make theatre are concerned with time. Both film and theatre, which are two very close but also two very separate media, are framed by time.  Plays and films are happening while you watch them, that is to say, you and the film or the play pass through time together.  It is happening now.  More specifically, I mean more so than in theatre, film is actually about time. It is about taking moments and bringing them together, and distilling them down into some kind of coherent narrative.  

I am moved to talk about Time today, because it seems to me that this event is very much about the passing of time in a very specific way in all our lives. And by that I mean our lives here today.  Those of you who have received your postgraduate degrees today have been here for a period of time. You will have found that at some points during your experience, time has seemed interminable and you wondered when the hell it would ever end, and yet in fact it has been over in a trice.  All of you have done your first degrees, either here or somewhere else, and you will already have had the experience of there being in your memory a three year period when you did your undergraduate degree, which was a huge part of your life, and will remain a huge part of your life, for the rest of your days. But at the same time was over in a jiffy.  It seemed only moments between the time you arrived as a fresher with your sixth form equipment to hang on your walls, and the time when you left, having been completely changed by the experience. And no doubt the same thing has happened to you here more recently.

It is extraordinary how certain events in our lives, certain periods of our lives, which may only be tiny in their length, still are enormous in the overall span of time.

I want to congratulate you all on your degrees and thank the University for my honorary degree. Of course I would also very much like to congratulate the new graduands of East 15 Acting School, with which I do have a connection, because although as we thespian-type people know, it is an extraordinary anomaly to wear a ridiculous costume and to receive a degree for acting, nevertheless it is a wonderful thing, too. And I absolutely congratulate you and the University on having facilitated this phenomenon.  Thank you very much.