Other-serving vs Self-serving Instructions in US College Commencement Speeches: A Quantitative Study


  • Isabel Trzeciak Moorestown High School
  • Stephen Trzeciak Cooper Medical School of Rowan University




altruism, service, education, college, graduation, commencement


INTRODUCTION: Research supports that serving others and practicing altruism is beneficial for one’s health, wellbeing, and success compared to solely serving oneself. However, it is unclear if this mindset is effectively communicated to young people, particularly college students. My objective was to perform a quantitative analysis of other-serving versus self-serving instructions in commencement speeches at graduation ceremonies of top-ranked U.S. colleges.

METHODS: I analyzed transcripts of commencement speeches at the 20 “Best Colleges” according to U.S. News and World Report rankings. Two trained independent raters coded each sentence of the speeches as either containing instruction (i.e., imperative/command sentence) versus no instruction. Next, the two raters classified each instruction as either (1) other-serving, (2) self-serving, or (3) neutral (serving neither). I tested inter-rater agreement using Cohen’s kappa coefficient (κ), and resolved any disagreement by consensus with a third rater. I pooled the data and performed descriptive statistics with sensitivity analyses to ensure that a small proportion of speeches were not skewing results.

RESULTS: Inter-rater agreement was very good (κ >0.85). Of 305 total instructions (mean 15/speech, range 2-44/speech), 148 were neutral. Of the 157 non-neutral instructions, 71 (45%) were other-serving and 86 (55%) were self-serving. Within individual speeches, there was wide variation in the proportion of other-serving versus self-serving instructions (range 0-100%); however, sensitivity analyses did not substantially affect results.

CONCLUSION: I found that other-serving and self-serving instructions were balanced in commencement speeches at top-ranked U.S. colleges. Additional research is needed to test the impact of these different messages on students.


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Author Biography

Stephen Trzeciak, Cooper Medical School of Rowan University


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How to Cite

Trzeciak, I., & Trzeciak, S. (2022). Other-serving vs Self-serving Instructions in US College Commencement Speeches: A Quantitative Study. Journal of Student Research, 11(2). https://doi.org/10.47611/jsrhs.v11i2.2613



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