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Penn State IST Commencement Brings Radical Pay Transparency to The (Work)Force

Katie Moussouris in black robe and cap with bright pink hair addresses the graduating class of Penn State IST 2024. A sign language interpreter is in the bottom right corner of the screen. The bottom of the screen says Congratulations Penn State Class of 2024.
Katie Moussouris announces a new pay equity initiative at the Penn State IST commencement podium May 4, 2024

There are very few moments in one’s career that one gets to enjoy for their profound significance in real time. Giving the Penn State University Information Sciences and Technology (IST) College Class of 2024 commencement address was clearly one such incredible moment.  


I would like to thank Dean Andrea Tapia for bestowing the honor of inviting me and President Neeli Bendapudi for her grace, as always, in adopting me as one of the Penn State family. 


I am also thrilled to announce I'll be partnering with Penn State IST on a new initiative in radical pay transparency for alumni and students this Fall.

We can and will achieve pay equity in our lifetime if we commit to it now.


My remarks start around minute 26 of the video, but if you watch from the beginning, you get to see a stormtrooper march in before me on the most memorable Star Wars Day of my life.


My full address is below. I have A New Hope for our future and believe with my whole heart that this generation will build a better world for us all.

May 4, 2024 Pennsylvania State University IST College Commencement Address

Esteemed faculty, proud parents, and, most importantly, the graduates of this distinguished institution, it is a profound honor to stand before you today, not as a traditional scholar, but as someone who has navigated the complex and ever-changing landscape of technology from outside the conventional paths. As a half-Native CHamoru half Greek American woman who never graduated from high school, let alone college, my presence here, on this stage, is a testament to the transformative power of curiosity, determination, and the willingness to challenge the status quo.

In other words, I hacked myself into the career that brought me here. At the end of this 8-minute-long speech, you will all be hackers too. Don’t worry, parents and professors, it’s all perfectly legal.

My journey began in the twilight of the 20th century, at the dawn of the modern Internet—an era that redefined human interaction and communication and set the stage for the technological marvels enabled by the brand-new way for computers to talk to each other. Our communication mediums back then consisted of text over impossibly slow connections, bits marching practically single-file over telephone landlines, screeching as they went uphill both ways in the snow. When I was young like you, the digital world was a vast, uncharted territory, teeming with possibilities and perils, much like the nascent field of artificial intelligence that you, the graduating Class of 2024, are poised to inherit.

In those formative years, I embraced the ethos of a hacker, always curious, mainly as a pioneer and an innovator. To me, hacking meant harmlessly dissecting systems to understand their essence, pushing boundaries to see what could be achieved, and always relentlessly seeking solutions to complex problems. Of course, I was also saved by the fact that my especially tricky technological times were A. before much of those kinds of activities became illegal, and B. happened so long ago that the statute of limitations is now up. Look, the US government trusts me enough that I serve on three Federal advisory boards for cyber security, so it must be all good now.

The point is that this hacker mindset propelled me through various endeavors, where I learned that true mastery comes from the unrelenting pursuit of knowledge and applying that knowledge to real-world challenges. I wish there had been a school like Penn State to learn how to turn my tricky, techy hobby into a career, but my generation created what became your curriculum, just as you will lay the tracks down for the train of innovation you are driving right now.

And you can’t spell “train” without AI. I actually asked ChatGPT to write this speech, but it had no jokes, not even mom jokes, so humans are indeed still useful for something. Today, as we stand on the brink of the AI revolution, we are reminded that the future is not a distant reality waiting to unfold but a dynamic canvas that we are actively shaping with every line of code, every algorithm, and every innovative idea we bring to life. Artificial intelligence, in its essence, is not just a tool or a technological advancement; it is a mirror reflecting our collective ambitions, fears, biases, and values.

Reflecting on my own experiences, from hacking together game code on a clunky desktop computer that my single mom bought me to helping to renegotiate the use of hacking technology in applied modern warfare, I see a reflection of the journey that lies ahead for each of you. The dawn of the Internet was a time of boundless potential and daunting challenges, much like today's AI landscape. It was a time when the actions of a few could alter the course of technology and, by extension, could alter society itself.

In this light, I urge you, graduates, to approach the future with a hacker’s mindset. See beyond the immediate horizon, question the status quo, and imagine what could be. Harness the potential of AI not only to excel in your careers but to implement changes that lead to a more equitable and just world.

As we wade deeper into the realm of AI, we confront the technical challenges, ethical dilemmas, and societal impacts of our creations. We can either recognize and account for bias in AI algorithms and training data, or we can do nothing and let the technology amplify the inequity we live with today.

To that end, one such illogical human artifact holding all of humanity back is pay inequity. At the current trajectory, white women are not expected to close the pay gap with white men for over 50 years, and black women will not close that gap for over 200 years. No one here will live to see gender and racial pay equity unless we decide to fix it now.

Pay inequity is an area I believe has vast implications across our broader society. With equitable economic power, we cement our human rights. AI has the power to help elevate humans beyond mundane computing tasks to solve much more complex problems. All of society can benefit from AI’s promise of increased efficiency, but not without our deliberate intervention to equitably distribute this tech dividend. However, this endeavor is not without its complexities and requires a nuanced understanding of technology and the human condition.

To this end, I am thrilled to announce the launch of a groundbreaking initiative in partnership with Penn State this fall—an experiment in radical pay transparency. Join us to participate in workshops focused on job offers, salary negotiations, resume-building, and mock interviews. We invite you to share your job offers and compensation packages with your peers to see if they are fair. You can help illuminate and eliminate economic injustice, giving pay inequity fewer places to hide.

There is a saying among hackers that helped shape the early Internet--“information wants to be free.” Now you can join the ranks of hackers in changing the system by setting pay information free.

You will not only be equipping yourselves with the tools to navigate the professional world but also laying the groundwork for dismantling systemic pay inequities that persist across gender and racial lines.

As you enter the working world, where you will define the future, remember that the path to success is not linear. It is fraught with challenges, setbacks, and experiences that will test your resolve and shape your character. Embrace these experiences with open arms and a relentless spirit, for they are the crucible in which true innovation and leadership are forged. There will be those who try to maintain even the most harmful norms every step of the way. The more innovative you are, the stronger the resistance you will have to overcome. Debug your lives with an open heart and mind, and I promise you that every challenge and every failure will fertilize the ground of your next effort, where your ideas will blossom.

In conclusion, as you step into a world teeming with possibilities, remember that you are not merely participants or end-users in the future. You are its creators, its programmers, and its system administrators. With AI dancing at your fingertips as your latest tool and your convictions as your guide, you have the opportunity—and the responsibility—to hack a new world into being. A world where technology serves not just the interests of the few, but the well-being of all.

Congratulations, graduates and fellow hackers! Go forth and build us a new world, a fair world, a world we can all be proud of. Hack the planet, and May the 4th be with you, always!

Katie Moussouris wearing a Stormtrooper helmet and colorful dress with a geometric pattern. Her right hand is on her hip and her left hand is resting on the counter with a Penn State Nittany Lion logo in the background. Hot pink hair is visible at the bottom of the helmet.
May the Forth Be With You, Always

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