She wanted to find just the right word to describe the Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School's class of 2014. But she told the commencement crowd at MCLA's Church Street Center that the word problem was a little too much for her.
"I sometimes struggle with making complex plurals out of things, like 'you guys's,' " West said, drawing chuckles from the crowd. "I don't know what the plural of phoenix is, but I know it is you."
West was in good company with her grammatical misfire on Saturday. Failure was something of a theme as BArT sent 13 graduating seniors into the world.
While the students' accomplishments were recognized and celebrated, the certainty of setbacks down the road was noted by several speakers, including West.
She reminded the graduates that their diploma is proof that they have acquired the necessary skills to deal with those roadblocks.
"As you move through life, your character will not be determined by your ability to avoid failure but by how you handle failure when it occurs," West said.
"College preparatory education does not mean anything if you don't have the grit to successfully face challenges."
And then West revealed a little secret to her soon-to-be-former students.
"All those tests we told you were really, really important for your success weren't really that important after all," she said. "Success in life is about so much more than the discrete academic skills, which you have mastered in the last four years.
"What we have attempted to teach you is resilience."
Audrey Akissi Aka showed that she had learned those lessons when she rose to deliver the senior reflections at the start of Saturday's ceremony.
"A few weeks ago, we were discussing, as a class, what we would miss the most about high school," Aka said. "Someone mentioned that while you're in high school, there's always someone somewhere who knows what you're supposed to be doing. Initially, I, too, feared this idea. It is incredibly intimidating to realize you're now completely in charge of your lives.
"There is a second approach. I say we embrace this challenge. Look at it as an opportunity to finally explore every inch of our lives and truly explore who we are.
"Dare to explore. Dare to make mistakes. Dare to live because you are in charge of your destiny."
Aka was joined by a dozen of her classmates in Saturday's ceremony. The BArT class of '14 includes: Jacob Richard Bristol, Olivia Cora Case, Matthew Lee Daniels, Sarah Lynn Fisk, Jonathan Alexander Harford, Gabrielle Kathleen Harrington, Jamie Victoria Kaczowski, Joseph Alden King, Caitlin Madigan Moriarty, Michael Gregory Perkins, Maximilian Jean Poirot and Christopher Stephen-Robert Tetlow.
Case siezed on the theme of the day in remarks titled, "Never Give Up."
"[My speech] is based on the mantra, 'I'm not giving up on this year,' Case said. "It was a statement I made as a promise of resilience to me when I was in danger of not graduating.
"Resilience to me is the fish that swims upstream. ... Take inspiration from the determination, perseverance and vigor of the fish that goes against the current. I want the same resilience for my peers. Don't give up."
The fruits of the grads' perseverance to this point were celebrated in the presentation of awards, the awarding of diplomas and the commencement address delivered by Berkshire Eagle reporter Jenn Smith.
Smith took advantage of the intimate class size at BArT by offering an anecdote or inspirational story about each member of the senior class.
But Smith, too, succumbed to the larger theme of the day by noting a failure. In this case, her own.
"I'm still figuring out life myself," said Smith, noting that she graduated high school in 2000.
"But I will say this. Another 14 years from now, you won't recall who I am or remember any of the words I say here today. But you will remember each other."