JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Samuel Arnold is graduating from high school. To some, it may not be a big deal, but Samuel wasn’t expected to be here. He was born premature, and doctors said he wouldn’t survive his first year. 18 years and more than 50 surgeries and procedures later, he continues to defy the odds.

Photo: WJHL

All eyes were on Sam Arnold as he entered the room for his graduation ceremony. Family, friends and teachers were all there to celebrate his accomplishment.

“I see him Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and I’m always there at 2 o’clock to see him,” said Sam’s teacher, Alvin Iglesias. “So, he knows when I get there. And how do I know that? He smiles. He has a beautiful smile.”

Sam is non-verbal and communicates with his eyes and facial expressions, Iglesias told News Channel 11.

“I do a lot of eye-gazing,” Iglesias says of Sam’s curriculum. “We have a program on an iPad that he’s able to look at, and I’m able to trace his eyes to let me know where he’s going to respond.”

Lori Sheehan, Sam’s former teacher, says Sam’s facial expressions speak for him.

“He’s just a great kid,” she said. “The lives that he’s touched…he’s amazing. He’s made mine better.”

Sam has proven time after time that there are no limits to what he can accomplish. From surviving health issues to communicating, Sam keeps surprising people.

“Who knows what Sam will do next,” Sheehan says. “Because he’s always proving those people wrong.”

Sam’s years of hard work were celebrated during a special ceremony with Johnson City School Board members and Superintendent Steve Barnett. Sam got to move his tassel, and officially become a graduate.

It was a rite of passage that Sam and his tribe went through together. And no doubt Sam will continue to change lives with no words, but just a smile.

Sheehan said Sam’s “Just the joy. But, that’s him. That’s our Sam.”